I must confess that I find most museums tedious. The exceptions tend to be small, quirky museums like the East Martello Museum in Key West, which is home to Robert the Doll, said to be the source for the Chucky series of horror films, or those dedicated to culture, such as the Rafael Coronel Museo de Mascaras Mexicana (Mexican Mask Museum) in Zacatecas, Mexico. I will also happily fritter away an entire day in any art museum, thus when I found out the the Hunter Museum of American Art was just steps away from where I would be staying in Chattanooga, I made a beeline for it on my very first day.
Even before I entered, the Hunter changed my conception of a typical stuffy museum. The facility is comprised of three buildings that have been incorporated into the museum over more than 100 years. The original, a red brick Colonial revival style mansion, complete with classic white columns encircling a covered portico, contains the museum’s collection of early American art. Built in 1904 for a local insurance broker, the mansion was eventually sold in 1920 to the widow of Benjamin F. Thomas, whose husband had been one of the founders of the world’s first Coca-Cola bottling company. Her nephew, George Thomas Hunter, inherited the mansion upon her death. The younger Hunter had by that time become chairman of the board of the bottling company and is best known for creation of the Benwood Foundation, a private charitable trust that is still in existence today. George Hunter never married, thus when he died in 1951 his charitable foundation agreed to donate the house to the Chattanooga Art Association for use as an art museum. Continue reading