Huntington Cairns, an author, former federal censor and one-time secretary of the National Gallery of Art, has died at the age of 80.
Cairns, who died Saturday of pneumonia, held posts including secretary, treasurer and general counsel at the gallery from 1943 to 1965. He was responsible for the creation of the Center for Hellenistic Studies in Washington.
He knew many writers of his generation, including H. L. Mencken, whom Cairns celebrated in his book “H. L. Mencken--The American Scene.” Cairns and his wife, Florence, lived in Kitty Hawk, N.C., and poet Robert Frost dedicated his poem “Kitty Hawk” to the couple.
Cairns, who attended the University of Maryland Law School and graduated at age 20, served as special adviser to the Treasury Department in the 1930s and ‘40s, where he was called upon to determine whether books and objects of art were pornographic or artistic.
“Someone had to do it,” Cairns said. “Most of the customs people didn’t know a Vatican mural from a French postcard. I was once shown a book which a customs man regarded as highly suspicious. It was a Spanish version of the Bible.”
Cairns once refused to import the works of a friend and author he personally admired, Henry Miller.
In 1940, Cairns founded and served as moderator for the network radio program “Invitation to Learning,” with which he gained national prominence.
He was well known for “The Limits of Art,” which The New York Times praised as “perhaps the best anthology of this or any other generation.”