Project Home List of Names Rollins Archives Olin Library Rollins College

Hugh F. McKean (1908 – 1995):

Artist, Educator and Philanthropist

Throughout nearly three-quarters of the twentieth century, Hugh Ferguson McKean—10th President of Rollins College, artist, educator, museum director, collector, writer, philanthropist, and lover of nature—significantly shaped Rollins College and the City of Winter Park. Together with his wife Jeannette Genius McKean (1909 – 1989), McKean helped establish an enduring ethos and legacy of philanthropy, arts, and culture in Winter Park and beyond.

Hugh F. McKean, son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur McKean,[1] was born in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, on July 28, 1908. He grew up in College Hill, Pennsylvania, moved to Central Florida with his family in 1920, and graduated from Orlando High School.[2] McKean earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, in 1930 and, in 1940, a Master of Arts degree from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Art Students League in New York City, L’Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Fontainebleau, France, and Harvard University. McKean began teaching at Rollins College as a lecturer in Art in 1932, eventually ascending the ranks in the Art Department. In 1945 he married Jeannette Morse Genius, granddaughter of Charles Hosmer Morse, the Chicago industrialist who, in the early part of the twentieth century, came to Florida and focused on restoring Winter Park’s economy, preserving the aesthetic beauty of the town, and developing its educational and cultural resources. Morse is remembered as the founder of the Winter Park Land Company, a Rollins College Trustee, and one of the greatest benefactors of the college in his day.[3]

It was in memory of her grandfather that Jeannette McKean built and donated The Morse Gallery of Art in 1942 on the Rollins campus. Hugh McKean became its director in 1945, a position he held until his death, just months short of the opening of The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, the Morse museum’s relocated home on Park Avenue North in Winter Park. In 1951, McKean assumed the presidency of Rollins, an appointment he accepted because of his devotion to the College[4] and one he held until 1969, at which time he became Chairman of the Board of Trustees and, through 1973, Chancellor of the College. Hugh McKean’s creative leadership mid-century onward is perhaps best highlighted by understanding something about his lifelong endeavors as an artist and art collector, as a lover of nature and champion of ecology, and as a teacher-scholar with indefatigable faith in young people. These facets of his life and accomplishments in particular are integrally tied to McKean’s civic, educational, cultural, and philanthropic contributions.

Throughout his life McKean was a painter, often inspired by the landscapes and people of Central Florida. His early realistically stylized portraiture eventually gave way to more Impressionistic work and, finally, to his maturity as a painter with a strong personal vision.[5] During his lifetime McKean’s works were exhibited locally and nationally. Always active in art circles, he also served as trustee of the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, and of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation in New York.

A love of nature connected Hugh McKean to Louis Comfort Tiffany and his achievements in painting, décor, and, most prominently, in glass works of art. In the early 1900s, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 – 1933), a practicing decorative artist, built Laurelton Hall, his dream home in Oyster Bay, New York. In an article in The Little Sentinel, December 18, 1981, Hugh McKean described the sprawling estate as a “three-dimensional work of art, fabricated of marble, wood, plaster, winds, glass, copper, rains, light, sound, sunlight, flower gardens, running water, terraces, woods, hills.”[6] More than a mere residence for Tiffany, Laurelton Hall became a place where invited aspiring artists could live and create artworks for periods of up to two months, enabled by a foundation Tiffany established to further help young artists.[7] In 1930, when Tiffany was 82, Hugh McKean visited Laurelton Hall as one such burgeoning art student. In a piece in the Sunday, April 15, 1979 Florida Magazine, McKean recalled that Tiffany “talked about the importance of beauty…. I thought he was wonderful.” He added, “Jeannette liked his work and I liked the man.” To the McKeans, Tiffany stood for a world of sensitivity and beauty[8]—values the couple apparently greatly admired and emulated. 

In 1955, the McKeans presented the first contemporary exhibit of Tiffany’s art at the Morse Gallery of Art, yet by this time Tiffany’s Art Nouveau creations were considered so passé that the couple was able to pick up inexpensive examples of Tiffany’s work at antique shops in Manhattan. Then, in 1957, after Laurelton Hall was destroyed by fire, the McKeans were invited to the Long Island mansion by the artist’s daughter—who knew of Hugh’s long-time admiration and knowledge of her late father—to salvage what was left of the estate. The McKeans accepted at once and purchased, for a modest price, everything that was salvageable.[9] By the 1980s, Hugh and Jeannette had amassed a 4,000 piece- collection of 19th- and 20th-century glass, paintings, prints, pottery, and decorative arts valued conservatively in 1987 at $6 million. Their Tiffany collection, much of it housed at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, remains the most comprehensive collection of Tiffany’s work anywhere in the world.

Ensuring access to the collection was always a concern for the McKeans. Beginning in 1976, McKean became the President of the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation, set up in the 1950s to fund the museum; the foundation controls the collection of Tiffany Art Glass and American paintings collected by the McKeans. And while Hugh McKean did not live to see the opening of the museum space on Park Avenue, he was integrally involved in its design and concept: “To enrich the cultural life of the community and thereby carry into the future the legacy Charles Hosmer Morse and his granddaughter Jeannette Genius McKean left to Winter Park.”[10]

As if by extension of the values of Morse, McKean carried into the future his own unique legacy. Following his retirement from the Rollins College Board of Trustees in 1975, McKean, still committed in the art world, began writing prolifically about Tiffany the man, his art, and his period. In 1980, Doubleday & Company, Inc., published McKean’s The “Lost” Treasures of Louis Comfort: Tiffany. Additional works by McKean about Tiffany followed, including: The Treasures of Tiffany: A Special Exhibition Presented by the Chicago Tribune at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago from the Collection of the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation by Louis Comfort Tiffany (Designer), Hugh F. McKean (Author), published by the Chicago Review Press (1982); Louis Comfort Tiffany by Hugh F. McKean, published by Weingarten (1988); and, in 2001, Lost Treasures was republished by Schiffer Publishing. These works offer McKean’s reflections on various artistic works, such as Tiffany’s windows, paintings, decorative arts, and more. McKean’s musings on the importance of art and beauty, The Lovely Riddle Reflections on Art, was published by The Morse Museum of American Art in 1997.

Hugh McKean was an early proponent for preserving the Florida’s natural beauty and advocating for the state’s sound planning. Together with his artistic and creative written expressions, Hugh McKean’s love of beauty was paralleled at his residence, Wind Song—a lakefront Mediterranean-style home set in a natural Florida oak hammock in Winter Park. Beginning with C.H. Morse’s land purchase on the shores of Lakes Mizell, Barry, and Virginia in 1920 and the construction of Wind Song in 1936 by Richard M. and Arthur E. Genius, Jeannette’s father and uncle, the environmental interests of Morse were continued throughout the adult lives of Hugh and Jeannette during their residence and stewardship of the flora and fauna at Wind Song from 1951 until their deaths in last decades of the 20th century. Wind Song remains preserved through The Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation, named for Jeannette’s mother, which governs the McKeans’ real estate holdings.

The McKeans’ commitment to beauty, and bringing beauty to everyday life and, significantly, to Rollins, was often made tangible on the campus of Rollins—on its grounds and in its buildings and their furnishings, many selected by the McKeans themselves.  

The commitment for a beautiful and better community, however, was not all surface. During his presidency, Hugh McKean tirelessly advocated for a “community of learning rather than a seat of mass education.”[11] He wrote several treatises on the freedoms of American education, education in responsibility, and about the importance of student citizenship and values.[12] In many ways, McKean thus represented an era.

Hugh McKean “sat in the president’s chair for 18 years, and could claim a balanced budget, an endowment that had more than quadrupled, an enrollment that had grown from 600 to 1,000, nine new major buildings, and significant changes in the educational complexion of the College.”[13] Described in turns by colleagues, students, friends, and business associates as soft-spoken, caring, humble, humorous, approachable, visionary, and dedicated to freedom in inquiry, Hugh McKean was also a man of broad intellectual interests, an avid supporter of technology and education, a story-teller, a naturalist, an unorthodox educator, and an optimistic leader. On Saturday, May 6, 1995, Hugh McKean, the “spirited gray Fox of campus story and song,”[14] died of cancer. He is buried in Chicago beside his wife, Jeannette.

This essay is resulted from the Rhea Marsh and Dorothy Lockhart Smith Winter Park History Research Grant of 2008-09.

- Denise K. Cummings

[1] 8 January 1938 announcement of Jeannette Morse Genius’s engagement to Hugh Ferguson McKean. Winter Park Topics: A Weekly Review of Social and Cultural Activities During the Winter Park Resort Season (Winter Park, FL, 1938,), 7. Charles Hosmer Morse File, Rollins College Archives.

[2] Carole Arthurs. “A Tribute to a Giant of a Man.” Winter Park—Maitland Observer. Vol. 17, No. 19. (May 11, 1995), 1. Also see Robert D. McFadden. “H.F. McKean, Tiffany Expert Who Led College, Dies at 86.” New York Times (Mon., May 8, 1995), Obituaries.

[3] Jim Forsyth. “Morse Traditions Live on in Winter Park.” Orlando Sunday Sentinel-Star (Feb. 22, 1953), 16-C. Morse first came to Winter Park in 1883 and, in 1904, organized the Winter Park Land Company with Harold A. Ward.

[4] Press Release. Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, May 13, 1951. Hugh F. McKean File, Rollins College Archives.

[5] “Hugh F. McKean.” The Official Website of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.

[6] Sharon Carrasco. “McKean Reflects Back 50 Years of Laurelton Hall.” The Little Sentinel (Fri., Dec. 18, 1981), 4.

[7] Chris Schneider. “The Tiffany Legacy Lives On at the Morse Gallery of Art.” Center Stage Vol. 7, No. 5 (May 1985),

[8] Chris Cobbs. “Shine on, Mr. Louis Comfort Tiffany.” Florida Magazine (Apr. 15, 1979), 11.

[9] Ibid.  Also: William Weaver. “Florida’s Feast of Tiffany.” The New York Times Magazine (May 12, 1996).

[10] See the Official Website of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.

[11] Hugh F. McKean. “Letter of Acceptance.” Written to Winthrop Bancroft, Chairman, Board of Trustees, April 3, 1952. Hugh F. McKean File, Rollins College Archives.

[12] Some examples: “The Freedoms of American Education” (Summer 1965); “‘If I am the President, I am Also a Graduate of this College’: A Memorandum to the Students on Education in Responsibility” (Spring 1966); and “…a community dedicated to learning” (Rollins Press, Inc., Spring 1968). Hugh F. McKean File, Rollins College Archives.

[13] Lorrie Kyle Ramie. “Hugh Ferguson McKean ‘30 ‘72H: Gentleman & Scholar.” Hugh F. McKean File, Rollins College Archives.

[14] Dr. Fred W. Hicks. “Citation for Hugh Ferguson McKean.” Remarks offered at Rollins College Commencement, May 28, 1972, on the occasion of McKean receiving the Honorary Degree Doctor of Fine Arts. Hugh F. McKean File, Rollins College Archives.

Project Home List of Names Rollins Archives Olin Library Rollins College