Marcia Hite Exhibit Showcases Patron and Artist

By Trish Blair

Have you ever thought about the names of the buildings and spaces while you were walking around downtown, your own neighborhood, or even the University of Louisville? The names of buildings, streets, and organizations are usually derived from either a person, place, or thing. The Hite Institute for Art and Design is named for Allen Rose Hite (1865-1941) whose generous bequest of nearly $1,000,000, 75 years ago elevated the Art department to a nationally known art program. But why did a businessman and attorney (UofL 1885) grant such a substantial sum of money to creating a space for students to learn the visual arts? Because his wife, Marcia S. Hite, was an artist and convinced him that the arts and art education was a valuable gift to the people of Louisville. 

“Bumble and Lily,” one of Hite’s works on display at the Bridwell Art Library.

Marcia Shallcross Warren (1877-1946) was born in Louisville to a prominent family of steamboat captains and society dames.  She entered a world of debutantes, formal dances, and ladies who lunch. After her debut, she met Allen R. Hite and they were married in 1897. They settled in a grand house on Third Street and began their life of civic duty and patronage. When the first World War broke out in Europe, Allen was too old for conscription, so he and Marcia volunteered at Camp Taylor. Marcia became a local hero by de-facto leading the Red Cross mission at Camp Taylor, raising $250,000 ($4.6 million in 2022 dollars) in 1918, for the Red Cross.

As part of the 75th anniversary of the Hite Institute of Art and Design, the Art Library will host an exhibit honoring Marcia Shallcross Hite, who along with her husband Allen R. Hite, made the bequest that funded the creation of the Hite Institute. During her lifetime, Hite exhibited her watercolors in New York and Boston alongside artists such as Edward Hopper and John Carroll.  The exhibit is based on artifacts from the Allen R. and Marcia S. Hite papers in the Art Library’s manuscript collection and features some of Marcia Hite’s original works from the University of Louisville art collection. The exhibit will be on display throughout 2022.

When the war was over and they re-settled into married life, Marcia began taking art classes at the newly formed Louisville Handicraft Guild. She became president of that group’s next incarnation, the Louisville Art Center. During this time, Marcia discovered that she could paint and draw despite no formal training. In 1930, after painting watercolors for two years, she began exhibiting in New York and Boston, along such artists as Edward Hopper, as well as in Louisville. She became known as ‘Louisville’s Memory Painter.’

In 1941, she became a widow when her beloved husband Allen died at the age of seventy-six. However, before his death Marcia, had transformed Allen into an art lover and a philanthropist. When Allen wrote his first will, he made a codicil that they would bequest the bulk of their estate to the University of Louisville to create an art institute. In 1946, after Marcia passed, the Allen R. Hite Institute of Art was founded.  At the time their gift was the largest in UofL history.

While the name has evolved over the last 75 years, the mission is still as they envisioned:

“For the furtherance of Modern art in general and education by teaching, lecture and scholarship.” 

Without Marcia Shallcross Warren Hite the visual arts would be very different at UofL today.

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