Thomas Melvin Hinton (1906–1975)
Thomas Melvin Hinton was a classically trained artist who produced many realistic and impressionistic oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings. His paintings won many awards in Arkansas and nationally and are on permanent exhibit at museums and other public and private venues.
Thomas Hinton was born on October 4, 1906, to a prominent Texarkana (Miller County) couple, Thomas Jonathan Hinton, who was a plantation owner and businessman, and Mina Kinser Hinton. He had two sisters.
As a toddler, he was stricken with polio and became crippled in one leg, though his father made sure that his son learned to ride horses and manage the plantation. Commuting from the city to the farm on Red River became increasingly difficult, so Hinton’s mother’s wishes to develop his artistic talents eventually won out.
Hinton became known as a talented artist and was often called upon to produce art works for various community functions, as well as illustrations for the Texarkana Gazette newspaper. At age nineteen, he went to live in Chicago, Illinois, with his mother’s sister and her husband. He entered the Chicago Art Institute, where he studied under Wellington Reynolds, George Oberteuffer, and others. He received his bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1929. Other formal training was gained through his studies at the American Academy in Chicago and the Art Students League of New York. He also worked with numerous eminent American artists including Charles Hawthorne, Elmer Forsberg, and Eliot O’Hara.
Following graduation from the Art Institute, Hinton went to work for Hatch-Sattley Advertising Agency in Chicago, where he worked for seven months. Vogue Studios offered him a better job doing men’s fashion illustrations for the Montgomery Ward catalogue, but he was laid off after a year due to the Depression. Hinton freelanced in Chicago for a few months afterward, but, finding little work, he returned to the family home in Texarkana in 1932.
In the fall of 1932, Hinton painted the only authorized portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which was purchased by the Roosevelt family, and he was soon commissioned by Senator Margie Neal, co-director of the Democratic National Campaign for Texas, to paint a copy of that portrait to be used in Roosevelt’s presidential campaign. Also, a portrait of James Nance Garner, the vice-presidential candidate, was commissioned and produced. Hinton continued to be a self-employed artist in Texarkana, painting portraits of many well-known individuals, including John C. Futrall, president of the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County).
In February 1934, Hinton was chosen to be an artist for the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), a New Deal program. Hinton was assigned to document the work at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) at Boyle State Park in Little Rock (Pulaski County). He was next assigned to Vicksburg Mississippi Military Park as an artist/enrollee in the CCC Art Program.
After Hinton’s discharge from the CCC Art Program, he experienced a nervous breakdown. The condition was thought to be a result of the multiple surgeries on his crippled foot, combined with the periods of unemployment during the Depression. He did not paint for three years and received electroshock treatments at the Arkansas State Hospital in Little Rock.
After his recovery in 1938, he worked again as a self-employed artist in Texarkana until January 1942, when he was hired by the National Lead Company in Malvern (Hot Spring County) as a bookkeeper; he was later promoted to office manager. During this time, he did little, if any, painting. He was transferred to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1948 but decided to resign and return to Texarkana, where he stayed for a few months. He then relocated to New York City and freelanced there for seven months.
Hinton returned to Texarkana in August 1949. By this time, his aging parents needed assistance, and he set up his studio at the residence property, where he lived and painted for the rest of his life. He was active in many community projects and worked as an artist for the Red River Army Depot in nearby Lone Star, Texas. He painted many portraits as well as watercolors and oils, completely supporting himself by his works.
The State of Arkansas purchased two of Hinton’s paintings for permanent exhibit at the Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock, and he was a founding artist of the Arkansas Arts Center (now the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts) there. He had many exhibits throughout the South and won several prestigious awards. Hinton was a founding member of the Hoover Watercolor Society in Shreveport, Louisiana, and a member of the Mid-Southern Watercolorists in Little Rock. He exhibited at Barnhill Art Center in Shreveport and various locations in Longview and Tyler, Texas.
Hinton took over management of the family farm on Red River after his father’s death in 1952. He gave free art lessons at the Temple Memorial Home for Crippled Children and the Federal Correctional Institution near New Boston, Texas. He also taught Red Cross swimming lessons for children with disabilities at Spring Lake Park in Texarkana.
Hinton was diagnosed with cancer of the throat in 1968 and underwent surgery. The last few years of his life, he seldom exhibited his paintings. In 1975, he was again diagnosed with cancer and died on September 7, 1975. He is buried at State Line Cemetery in Texarkana in the family plot.
Most of his works are in private collections and museums, though several pieces were on exhibit in 2012 and 2013 at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville (Benton County).
For additional information:
Thomas M. Hinton Collection. http://www.thomasmhintoncollection.com/ (accessed September 23, 2021).
“Thomas M. Hinton of Texarkana Dies.” Arkansas Gazette, September 8, 1975, p. 14A.
Betty Miller Jones
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