Historic Federal Courthouse

511 East San Antonio Avenue


Pass of the North, mural 1938, Oil on canvas, 11' x 54' Historic Federal Courthouse, El Paso, Texas

Pass of the North, mural 1938, Oil on canvas, 11' x 54' Historic Federal Courthouse, El Paso, Texas © James D. Lea



The Job I worked on the hardest, and learned the most while doing, and took the most pleasure in doing, was the ‘Pass of the North’ mural for the federal courthouse in El Paso, commissioned after submitting a design and winning another Section of Fine Arts competition. The mural space measured fifty-two feet high, pierced at the center by a doorway. I started my design by writing an inscription, which I made up out of my head, above the door:

O PASS OF THE NORTH
NOW THE OLD GIANTS ARE GONE
WE LITTLE MEN LIVE WHERE HEROES
ONCE WALKED THE INVIOLATE EARTH.


I filled the space on each side of the door with figures of old giants, some of them nine feet tall, standing before a background of Mount Franklin and the Rio Grande…I worked four months making completely detailed full-size drawings of each of the giants, then shifted my base from the studio to the front lobby of the courthouse, where I spent the next five months painting my giants directly on the wall(Tom Lea, A Picture Gallery, Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1968, pp. 21 & 24).






El Paso Public Library

501 N. Oregon Street
(915) 543-5433


Southwest, mural, 1956 Oil on canvas, 51⁄2 x 20 feet El Paso Public Library, El Paso, Texas © James D. Lea

Southwest, mural, 1956 Oil on canvas, 51⁄2 x 20 feet El Paso Public Library, El Paso, Texas © James D. Lea


When the citizens of El Paso voted a municipal bond issue to build a new public library, I offered to paint a mural in the new building as a gift to my town. A fine space for a mural was incorporated into the building’s design and a wall opposite the main entrance on the ground floor was surfaced and prepared according to my own specifications, ready for the painting I promised to provide…It took its shape simply as a luminous window looking out upon its birthland. It spoke of space, sun, cloud, rain, wind, mountain, mesa, rock, sand, soil, and of living growth nurtured by them. The only human habitant of this element landscape was the viewer of the mural; the landscape’s horizon was at the viewer’s eye level when standing on the library’s floor. It was the earth, inhabited only by the viewer’s mind.


The painting was begun in April of 1956 and finished in May. Throughout the work at the library I had a devoted associate and competent assistant as a muralist. Sarah helped both in drawing the design on the wall and in the final painting. We shared it. Both of us signed it. We take joint satisfaction in it. And the shelves close by our mural hold the library’s good collection of reference material relating to Paso del Norte and the Southwest.” (A Picture Gallery, Brown and Company, 1968, pp. 158).


The mural was moved to the new entrance facing Cleveland Square when the library expanded in 2006.






El Paso Museum of Art

El Paso Museum of Art
1 Arts Festival Plaza
(915) 532-1707


In anticipation of the 1998 grand opening for the El Paso Museum of Art’s new building, Laura Bush and a statewide committee formed to name the Tom Lea Gallery, bringing dozens of his works from private collections back home.  Today the spacious room welcomes visitors to El Paso and the Southwest, displaying several Tom Lea paintings along with other national and regional American artists.  Although the Museum rotates its permanent collection every two years, those Tom Lea works not on view are cared for in lower level storage, available for research and viewing by appointment. 


The museum owns over 130 works by Tom Lea - Rio Grande (1954), displayed in the Oval Office of the White House from 2001-2008 and the complete set of Chinese ink paintings for Lea’s novel The Hands of Cantu (1964) among them.  Tom Lea’s work is central to the museum’s body of regional and southwestern art.  Founded in 1959 and opened to the public in 1960, the El Paso Museum of Art (EPMA) houses a permanent collection of over 6,000 works of art from the United States, Europe, and Mexico.  It is a major cultural and educational resource for West Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. 






El Paso Museum of History

510 N Santa Fe St, El Paso, TX 79901
(915) 351-3588


The Arrival of the First Train in El Paso, 1881, 1956
Pen & Ink, 18 ½ x 15 ¾ inches © James D. Lea

The Arrival of the First Train in El Paso, 1881, 1956 Pen & Ink, 18 ½ x 15 ¾ inches Gift of Pat & Henry Taylor © James D. Lea


Originally created for the 75th anniversary edition of the El Paso Times in 1956, the detailed illustration hangs at the entrance to the Transportation Gallery. Tom Lea used Engine # 1, a 4-4-0 type steam locomotive preserved in El Paso as his model for the train. The characters in the drawing are based on actual people in the life of El Paso and Juarez, and the Lea dog, Boodle, is depicted at the feet of the Juarez Mayor.






University of Texas at El Paso

500 W University Ave, El Paso, TX 79968
(915) 747-5000


Who Came to Stay, 1984 Oil on canvas, 38 x 72 inches © James D. Lea

Who Came to Stay, 1984 Oil on canvas, 38 x 72 inches © James D. Lea
Library 3rd Floor Gallery


Who Came to Stay is a large scene showing a man on horseback looking out of the painting and a horse-drawn wagon crossing a rugged desert landscape. It was commissioned for the UTEP Library’s new building by University President Haskell Monroe as one of the original art purchases for the new library building.





Portrait of Carl Hertzog 1946, brush and chinese ink, 23" x 17"

Portrait of Carl Hertzog, 1946 Brush and Chinese ink, 23" x 17" © James D. Lea
Sixth floor Hertzog Room

The portrait of Carl Herzog is a pencil drawing on paper of the distinctively thin and craggy printer and book designer in profile. Carl Hertzog was the founder of Texas Western Press, the UTEP publishing house. One building, where the print shop is housed, and one room in the Library, where the Hertzog Book Collection is kept, are named for Carl Hertzog. The portrait was left to the library by Hertzog’s widow, Vivian Hertzog.

The University Library at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) is housed in a building completed in 1984. UTEP was founded in 1914 as the Texas School of Mines and Metallurgy.




Cabeza de Vaca

Cabeza de Vaca
Centennial Museum






The Turning Point, 1966 Oil on canvas, 31 x 42 inches

The Turning Point, 1966 Oil on canvas, 31 x 42 inches
Larry Durham Center


“About the time I was completing the [Sam] Rayburn portrait I engaged myself in a singular kind of portraiture. Some friends of mine asked me if I could paint a kind of commemorative portrait of a time and place: an exact second of time measured in visible yardage on a football field. With people.
They were referring to the final play in the last seconds of the game between Texas Western (now University of Texas at El Paso) and University of Salt Lake on November 13th, 1965. In that last play the Texas Western quarterback standing behind his own goal line, with his team trailing by a score of 13 to 19, threw a thirty-eight yard pass to a Texas Western end who ran all the way for a touchdown. After his scoring, the conversion kick was successful. With time on the clock all gone, Texas Western won, 20 to 19.


Once my football friends suggested it, the idea of painting a portrait of that one-in-a-million finale took hold of me. We all went to work then, scrutinizing the movie film of the game, the press photos, the recollections and the diagrams of the coaching staff, placing each player, reconstructing exactly what happened. When I had it all plotted, the Texas Western boys suited up for me one fine spring afternoon in the Sun Bowl and ran and re-ran the play, including impersonations of opposing Utes, while I stood in midfield where the pass was being caught and studied each player’s part in the action. Everybody had fun, assembling the elements for the picture, painting the picture, and presenting the picture to the school at a dinner attended by the coaches, the players and the fans, all happy,” (A Picture Gallery, Brown and Company, 1968, pp. 156-157).






International Museum of Art

1211 Montana Ave El Paso, TX 79902
(915) 543-6747


Pasaron Por Aqui, 1960  lintel over Brown Street door

Pasaron Por Aqui, 1960 lintel over Brown Street door


In an elegant design, Tom Lea describes the headgear worn by three of the original peoples who traveled the Pass of the North: the Indian, the Conquistador and the Cowboy.






Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine

4800 Alberta Ave, El Paso, TX 79905


The First Recorded Surgical Operation in North America:  Cabeza de Vaca, 1535, 1965
Encaustic, 20 x 28 inches

Preparatory drawing for The First Recorded Surgical Operation in North America: Cabeza de Vaca, 1535, 1965 Encaustic, 20 x 28 inches Collection of the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, Gift of Mary Ann and Ron Gum
Education Building, Simulation Lab


The drawing describes Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca – the Spanish explorer who was the first non-Indian to set foot on Texas soil – removing an arrowhead from an Indian’s chest, an event chronicled in his Relaciòn published in Spain in 1542. The finished painting is at the Moody Medical Library at the University Medical Branch, Galveston.