Manuel Hinojosa walks between the exhibit rooms of the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art, the faces of his sports heroes looking back at him.
Many are childhood heroes – the boys of summer – be it Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays, with current stars like Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros included among the baseball greats. Hinojosa himself is wearing an Astros cap, as he often does, a smile underneath in giving a tour of 200 paintings hanging at the Brownsville museum.
Hinojosa painted everything on display, with many more at his Port Isabel home. The boy from Mission who “liked to doodle a lot” grew up to become a city manager, an architect, and as can be abundantly seen at the museum, an artist. He started painting in grade school. Hinojosa hasn’t stopped since then. His wide scope of art work includes paintings of athletes, historical and entertainment figures, book illustrations and battlefield scenes.
Hinojosa’s journey is an eventful one. The story of his art began with lessons as a youngster in Mission. An undergraduate degree in art would then follow after high school. There would be diversions away from art during a multi-faceted career, but painting has been a constant in his life. His devotion to it has never wavered. In the process, he ultimately created “The Artworld of Manuel Hinojosa,” with a sign in front of the museum making it official.
The Hinojosa artistic display began on April 8 with an evening reception that attracted hundreds of admirers. It will continue through May 28 at the fine art museum. Just before the early April reception arrived, Hinojosa walked the museum floors with his paintings all around him, describing what it meant to him.
“To see all of these paintings up, this is my lifetime work,” he said.
Going Into A Zone
It started with a school teacher in Mission who noticed the obvious.
Manuel Hinojosa could really draw.
His parents were called to alert them of their son’s talents, with a recommendation that young Manuel receive dedicated instruction. Starting in fifth grade and through his high school years, Hinojosa had weekly art instruction in learning essential skills and techniques. An undergraduate art degree from Pan American University in Edinburg was the next step in his development as an artist.
Hinojosa then spent a stretch of his working life in municipal government. He worked in urban renewal programs in the 1960s. There would be stints as a city manager in San Benito and Port Isabel, a community he and his wife took a liking to, and where they live still today.
Hinojosa was also drawn to architecture, studying it at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He would ultimately go on to enjoy a successful career in in the field. He is currently a district architect for the Brownsville Independent School District.
His true passion, however, is evident in the 200 paintings on display at the museum. Through all of the years of working in other endeavors, he has always painted, “walking into the bubble,” as he put it.
“You go into a zone and paint,” Hinojosa said. “You sit down on a Saturday and you don’t get up. You’re creating something from nothing. It’s a feeling you can’t get anywhere else.”
Cast Of Characters
Muhammed Ali held up an artistic likeness of him in the early 1990s, peering at it, and was suitably impressed.
“You did this?” he asked the artist. “What’s your name?”
The artist stated his name and the legendary boxer signed the painting, “To Manuel Hinojosa From Muhammed, 1-16-92.”
The signatory flourish with a cloud-looking bubble around it was more than Hinojosa wanted in his painting.
“What could I say?” Hinojosa recalled “It was Muhammed Ali.”
Ali is among the hundreds of famous athletes Hinojosa has met over the years, as he has asked them to put their signatures on his paintings. Some of the athletes he has painted, like Mays, Mantle and Hank Aaron, have disappointed when asking for their signatures in person. Others like Mr. Cub, Chicago’s Ernie Banks, were delights to meet, as was Ali.
Hinojosa has successfully gotten the signatures of nearly every famous athlete he has painted, be it in person at card shows and events, or through mailed requests. It’s not only the well-known athletes who have intrigued him. He spoke fondly of Herbie Hinojosa, a Brownsville native and horse jockey, who in his 1960s heyday, raced in Triple Crown races and won over 3,000 races.
Hinojosa’s art display includes a striking portrait of the jockey, wearing black boots, white pants and a crimson red vest. The diminutive horse jockey is but one character among the hundreds Hinojosa has studied and then painted. Seeing his museum display is a peek into his bubble, imagining what it has taken to create so much art work over so many years. The boy who loved to doodle has thus created a world all his own.