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Hines Art

Madison's Hines
has turned collecting into an art form

By Nita S. West
Contributing Writer


MADISON, Ind. (April 2000) – Visiting Opal Hines at her Third Street residence in Madison, Ind., is a little like stepping into H. G. Well's time machine. Nearly every aspect of Madison's past can be found on a bookshelf, in a china cupboard, hanging on a wall or tucked away somewhere, just waiting to be discovered.

Opal Hines

Photo by Phaedra Jones

Madison resident Opal Hines
has a unique collection of art,
china, books, clothing and dolls.

A Jefferson County native and Madison resident since 1945, Hines has collected art, china, books, clothing, dolls and anything memorable for most of her near 82 years. The result is a sort of living museum.
Surrounded by books in the "Keeping Room" of her home, Hines talks about when her family, which included 12 children, first settled in what is now Jefferson County in 1811. They were forced to move to Port William (now Carrollton, Ky.,) because of the frequency of Indian uprisings but returned when the problem diminished.
She recalls being told stories about the local Native Americans when she was a child. "I wish I had listened better and asked more questions. Sometimes people forget the Indians were around here first," she says.
One of the many books she treasures is an account of the summer of 1827, including a history of Tecumseh. "Lots of histories have been written about him, but not in 1827," she said.
Other books span from the early 1830s through present day novels. Of one presently popular novel, she chuckles, "I took a pencil and marked out all the four-letter words. When anyone wanted to read it, I told them, 'If I missed any, you go ahead and mark them out, too!' "
Her extensive collection of autographed books includes several biographies, many of them political figures. A copy of "Marvella," written by Marvella Bayh (completed by Mary Lynn Kotz, after Bayh's death) and signed by Birch Bayh is a favorite of Hines.
"Birch Bayh stopped in to see me the last time he was in town, even though we're on opposite political sides," she says, laughing.
Hines loves to have visitors, and it's difficult to say just who might drop by at any time. Doris Perry, from Fort Wayne, Ind., has been coming to Madison for nine years. She and her husband have a house here now, but prior to that, she was an overnight guest of Hines.
"She knew I was an avid reader, and the first night I spent in the house, everything was laid out in the bedroom for that purpose."
She goes on to describe, a bed tray, a lap robe and one thing that puzzled her – a closet full of clothing, some of it vintage. Perry recalls asking Hines about it the next morning.
"Oh," exclaimed Hines, "you were supposed to try those on! Play dress up, that's what they're there for!"
"She's a Madison treasure," said Perry, who has been helping Hines catalogue her book collection during her visits.
Another frequent visitor to the Hines home is Bill Burchill, who points out a truly unique bit of Madison history in Hines possession: A large glass-encased display of intricately sculpted birds, the work of George Gray Bernard, was once owned by Drusilla Cravens, daughter of J.F.D. Lanier, and former neighbor to the Hines family.
"One of Opal's daughters found it in the attic while playing at the Cravens home," Burchill said, describing how Hines came to own it. "She admired it, and said she'd like to have it some day."
As with many of Hines visitors, Burchill is anxious to add information to points of interest in the home and about its owner. "Everyone looks after her. We were all so glad an article was going to be written about her."
Most serious art collectors in Madison own paintings by the late William Snyder, but perhaps none are so unique as two hanging in the Hines home. A full-length, near life-size portrait of Juliet fairly dominates one wall of the living room. Breathtaking, would not be an exaggerated description.
In the Keeping Room, another Snyder hangs above a fireplace decorated with tiles by artist McKinley Childs. This Snyder is an oversized still life, featuring an array of produce, appointments and fresh meat, a style typical of the period. The most unusual feature, however, is a blue envelope in the lower right corner. Painted to look torn open at the top, complete with stamp and postmark, it is addressed to the artist himself.
Other smaller Snyders are also displayed, but they pale in impact when compared to these two pieces.
With the original structure built in 1837 and the addition in 1850, the Hines house is steeped in as much history as Madison, or its contents. Two mantles and a chandelier that hung in what is now the 606 Building on Main Street were brought from France in 1765. Another mantle in the hallway dates to the early 1800s. Hines even has the 1827 wedding dress of Mrs. Fry, the house's original owner.
Along with collecting and being responsible for restoring more than one house in the Madison area, Hines worked at the Madison State Hospital for 21 years and also took in boarders.
"Lots of boys," she recalls. "They all called me Mom. They were from everywhere – England, Scotland, Africa, Norway, all over the world. I still hear from a lot them.
"Everything's a memory," Hines says. "That's what makes it so special."
And it is indeed the memories that make Hines so special.

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