Built on a ninety-foot limestone bluff overlooking the Tennessee River and housed within a 1904 Classical Revival mansion and contemporary-style 1975 structure, the Hunter Museum of American Art features one of the finest collections of American art in the Southeast. The majestic mansion was once the home of George Thomas Hunter, chairman of the board of the Chattanooga Coca-Cola franchise and the nephew of Benjamin F. Thomas, founder of the world's first Coca-Cola bottling franchise. A respected local philanthropist, Hunter established the Benwood Foundation, a private charitable and educational trust. A year after his death in 1951, funds from Benwood, along with the gift of the Hunter mansion, were donated to the Chattanooga Art Association. On July 12, 1952, the association opened Chattanooga's first permanent exhibiting institution as the George Thomas Hunter Gallery of Art.
In 1975 a new addition to the Hunter mansion was completed to host changing exhibitions, public programs, and education activities and to provide storage and preparation areas and staff offices. Simultaneously, the Chattanooga Art Association and the George Thomas Hunter Gallery of Art consolidated to form the Hunter Museum of Art. At this time the Hunter board decided to focus its collection on American art.
The Hunter collection spans the history of American art from the colonial period to the present and covers a wide variety of media including painting, sculpture, contemporary studio, glass, and crafts. To complement the permanent collection, the Hunter presents a diverse schedule of changing exhibitions and offers a wide range of educational programs designed to bring art education and a knowledge of the Hunter collection to the public.
From fall 1996 through summer 1997 the mansion and the new building underwent extensive renovation. Restoration work in the mansion preserved the beautiful historical detail of this Classical Revival building. The new building was renovated to give it more character in keeping with the historic mansion; it has also been redesigned to provide more exhibition space. The Hunter Museum of Art strives to enrich the cultural lives of generations of Tennesseans by preserving the past and welcoming American art into the twenty-first century.