Seated in the Atrium, nibbling on hot hors d’oeuvres, Dorothy Fisher leans in close to talk candidly and with great affection about her late husband, the artist Felrath Hines. These days the gracious 91-year-old widow travels to museums all over the country to see his paintings in different settings.
“We’ve been flying all over the place,” she says.
Fisher visited us at PEM with her daughter for the opening of In Conversation, Modern African American Art. Hines’ paintings Red Stripe with Green Background and Radiant hang upstairs in the gallery. With its bold colors and playful geometric shapes, Red Stripe with Green Background is one of her favorites.
“A knockout,” she tells me. Critics and curators agree. Our designer Adam Sherkanowski liked the painting so much he used the image on invitations for the opening. The painting recently got the front cover of G, The Boston Globe’s arts magazine, with critic Sebastian Smee’s review of the exhibition.
The couple met in 1973 at the Smithsonian where Dorothy planned special events and Hines worked as a conservator at the National Portrait Gallery. (He also worked for a bit as personal conservator for Georgia O’Keeffe.)
“He was intriguing and elegant,” Fisher says, noting her husband shopped only at Brooks Brothers and never left the house with shoes unpolished. While very talented as a conservator, Hines worked mainly to buy canvases and paints. He devoted himself to painting full time upon retirement.
“He did his best work at the end,” she says. “He was so happy.”
After Hines’ death in 1993, Fisher grappled with how to find homes for some 200 paintings. She and her daughter wrote to every museum where Hines had exhibited to offer curators up to five selections. “We weren’t sure how it would work. So many widows have their husband’s paintings and museums get many of these letters.”
The calls from curators came immediately. Today Hines’ paintings are in close to 40 museum collections, including Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Yale University Art Gallery.
Fisher recently got a letter from the director of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Virginia who had just returned from an East Coast museum trip and reported: “Felrath Hines was everywhere.”
“I was thrilled to hear it,” Fisher says.
Mary Anne Rose also attended the In Conversation opening. Her late husband, the artist Herbert Gentry, loved these kinds of parties. “He was such a social human being. You know how generally people don’t talk to people in elevators? Everyone talked to Herb.”
Chatting in the gallery, his wife is equally gregarious. The couple met in Paris at an international residence for artists. Rose was 27 years old and a painter from San Francisco. Gentry was an established artist, some 30 years her senior, and happened to be in the lobby when Rose inquired if anyone else in the building also spoke English. He asked her to dinner that night and they stayed together the next 25 years.
Gentry’s painting at PEM is called Our City. Rose says their upstairs neighbor gave her husband this large canvas while cleaning out. He was 76 and so thrilled that he didn’t have to stretch the canvas himself that he went straight to his studio to get to work. “This one I always loved,” she tells me. “Something got expressed in the scale of it; the sense of spiritual connectedness among all people.”
Before his death in 2003 at age 84, Gentry never cared to enter into discussions about his legacy. “Don’t you know? Artists live forever,” Rose quipped. These days she is occupied with how best to preserve his works. It can be all consuming at times.
Last fall, with a hurricane of epic proportions predicted for New York City, Rose rushed to their Long Island studio to wrap extra plastic around her late husband’s paintings. The space is on the second floor, yet she worried. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”