A 1979 article described Felrath Hines as having “two careers: executing his own art and repairing the art of others.” As both an artist and painting conservator, Samuel Felrath Hines Jr. merged his interests in technical precision and harmonious color into a remarkable professional life. It was only after he retired from conservation in 1984 that Hines was able to paint fulltime, producing more paintings in less than a decade than the rest of his career combined.

As part of the Great Migration, Hines’s parents left the South in search of a better life and settled in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the artist was born. His mother encouraged him to experience all that the city had to offer, including taking youth art classes at the John Herron Art Institute. After graduating from high school in 1931, Hines enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps, serving as a firefighter in the American West while subscribing to art correspondence courses. In 1940, he rode the railroads as a dining car waiter for the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company, saving his salary to attend the Art Institute of Chicago (1944–1946). After moving to New York, he studied privately with Russian modernist Nahum Tschacbasov from 1947 to 1948. He later enrolled in design courses at the Pratt Institute and New York University.

An opportunity in 1951 to work—initially without pay—for master framer Robert M. Kulicke altered Hines’s professional trajectory. Kulicke’s East Tenth Street shop brought Hines into close contact with the New York art world and the field of conservation. As part of a two-year apprenticeship to Caroline and Sheldon Keck, the legendary founders of the Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center at NYU, Hines assisted the couple in conserving Claude Monet’s Water Lilies at the Museum of Modern Art. Over the course of what would be a twenty-five-year career as a conservator, Hines held a supervisory position at NYU’s Fine Arts Laboratories from 1962–1964 and then opened his own private conservation studio. His client roster included MoMA, the Whitney Museum, and the Guggenheim Museum. In 1972, his customer and great friend, Georgia O’Keeffe, encouraged Hines to move to Washington, DC, where he served as the chief conservator first at the National Portrait Gallery and then at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Hines continued to paint while working as a conservator and even exhibited at his former school, the John Herron Art Institute. Over time, his hard-edged compositions in the De Stijl tradition gave way to painterly abstraction, organic explorations of color executed in oil. In the catalogue to a 2002 exhibition of the artist’s work, one scholar noted that “Hines balanced a universal, almost Platonic, language of reduction  . . . [that] was abstract by necessity.” After meeting Romare Bearden, Hines joined Spiral, an African American artist collective, in 1963; fellow members included Charles Alston, Merton Simpson, and Hale Woodruff. Hines’s participation in Spiral spurred his political activism; he joined the March on Washington and declined participating in exclusively African American exhibitions (such as the Whitney Museum’s landmark 1971 presentation, Contemporary Black Artists in America) because he did not want his work “to be placed in a special category with a particular group.”

Dorothy C. Fisher, the artist’s widow, strove to preserve her husband’s legacy by donating paintings to museums and university art galleries. Felrath Hines’s work can be seen at the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Detroit Institute of Arts, among others.