A story goes along with every painting that Port Isabel artist Manuel Hinojosa has on display at the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art, one of the largest exhibitions yet of his art.
“In order to paint you’ve got to paint what you want to paint,” Hinojosa said last week as “The Art World of Manuel Hinojosa” as his work was being put up in the museum’s large display halls.
“That’s why I picked these subjects. I like sports, I like to paint people and I like collecting, so I combined them. That’s why I have the sports bar (Doubleday’s in Port Isabel.) I didn’t know anything about the restaurant business, but I wanted to show my stuff. It’s gotten a little crowed by now.”
Hinojosa then was diverted to a pair of acrylic-on-black portraits, one of Brownsville singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson and the other of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, that he painted in the early 1970s while still an undergraduate art student at Pan American University in Edinburg.
Hinojosa has been painting since he was 9 and received his first formal training starting in fifth grade. His first painting, done on the back of an album cover in the tempra used by grade-school students, is of a religious person. It occupies one side of a display case. On the other is a brass historical artifact dug up on one of his many trips to Mexico.
Hinojosa has a lifelong interest in history, especially Mexican history, and one room of the exhibit will be devoted to paintings he’s done of soldiers on both sides of the Mexican-American War, some fought on battlefields near Brownsville.
But the main attraction will be the watercolor paintings of important sports figures for which Hinojosa has become so well known.
Front and center is Hinojosa’s original drawing that Dallas Coach Tom Landry approved and that it took Hinojosa a year to paint in 1995 as an 18×100-foot mural at North Conway and Tom Landry streets in Mission, his and Landry’s hometown.
On either side are paintings of Dallas Cowboy greats like Zeke Elliott, Tony Romo, Tony Dorsett, Danny White and Troy Aikman, each with a pair of signed, game-used shoes below the painting. Fronting them are pedestals that display two trophies, one the 2016 Telly Award for a 19-minute video about the mural and paintings, the other the 2017 Lonestar Regional Emmy for the same film by Ruben Garcia.
Off to either side of the trophies are a game ball signed by Landry and other members of the 1952 New York Giants, and a Dallas Cowboys helmet signed by all of the Cowboys’ quarterbacks. In the room behind the wall are paintings and game-used shoes of football greats like OJ Simpson, Sammy Baugh, Don Shula and many others, running backs on one side, quarterbacks on the other.
The Emmy-winning video, “What Do You Collect?” in which Hinojosa talks about the mural and the paintings, will play on a loop, he said.
“The whole idea is to prop it, make it interesting. I saw them all play and I got to meet them all to sign my paintings,” Hinojosa said of the helmet.
“As the years went by, Nike and some of the other companies were competing. They were giving (athletes) tons of shoes, so it was easy for them to give ‘em away, so I’ve got Marshal Faulk, Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Marcus Allen, OJ, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders” Hinojosa said. “I paint them and then I get them to sign them.”
Hinojosa said he got Hall of Fame Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr to sign his painting while Starr was in Brownsville when his construction company was building an addition to what is now Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville.
Among many other baseball paintings is one of the “Bronx Bombers,” Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snyder.
“Mickey Mantle was my favorite as a kid,” he said. “Here are the 300-game winners, Warren Spahn, Carlton Fisk, Niekro, Seaver, Mattox, Clemmens, Gaylord Perry. You know Gaylord Perry played in Harlingen with the Corpus Christi Giants. Baseball is my favorite sport.”
Hinojosa often wears a Houston Astros baseball cap and did so during the interview. “We’ve had season tickets forever,” he said. “I cannot go to all the games but I go to as many as I can. I have a closet full of baseball cards.”
A signed painting of basketball great Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was waiting to be hung, signed just before Bryant was tragically killed a few years ago.
Amazingly, all of Hinojosa’s paintings are signed, which he admitted is an art in itself.
“In this collection thing, people know me all over the state, so when something happens people call me. Sometimes I can’t make a game. … I got Kobe Bryant to sign that, which right now anything Kobe Bryant is worth three, four thousand dollars, so I had a guy get it for me. These guys go to hotels, they get ‘em off a plane. They’re hunters, they’re headhunters. I’ve been doing this for 30-40 years already,” he said.
Hinojosa was inducted into the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 2017, where he was recognized for “going above and beyond in preservation of sports history in the Rio Grande Valley.”
With his wife Norma and brother, Ricardo, he co-owns Doubleday’s Sports Bar and Museum in Port Isabel, which houses the RGV Sports Hall of Fame Museum.
“They’re art. I love to paint” Hinojosa said of the sports portraits, which he continues to paint and get signed. “I have jerseys, I have helmets, they sign them. I even got Tom Brady to sign this. He’s a difficult guy to get. Johnny Unitas, this guy, Aaron Rodgers, look at this ugly signature, but I got him to sign.”
Hinojosa’s day job is as an architect. He graduated from the University of Southwest Louisiana as one of only a handful of architecture graduates nationwide named to Alpha Rho Chi, the architecture fraternity. He said he put himself through architecture school drawing cartoons of people starting at $5 a pop.
“Alpha Rho Chi is the highest honor you could get in architecture. Why me? because I could draw. It was easy for me to draw a building. Since then, that’s what I’ve been known by is design and I got into it by accident. It wasn’t easy for me, but I stuck it out and I’ve been doing architecture since, but my love is art.”
As an architect with Kell Munoz Architects out of San Antonio, he helped design the Margaret M. Clark Aquatic Center at 2901 FM 802 and buildings on what was then The University of Texas at Brownsville-Texas Southmost College campus including the Student Union and health sciences building. Today, he is the architect for the Brownsville Independent School District.
“The Art World of Manuel Hinojosa” runs through May 28.