Branigan Cultural Center

501 N. Main Street, Las Cruces, NM 88001
(575) 541-2154

A Franciscan Friar Showing A Book to Indians in the 17th Century, 1935

A Franciscan Friar Showing A Book to Indians in the 17th Century,, 1933 Watercolor, 6 x 13 Collection of the El Paso Museum of Art © James D. Lea

In the entryway of the Branigan Cultural Center hangs a mural entitled, A Franciscan Friar Showing a Book to Indians in the 17th Century. The Mural was painted in 1935 for the Percy McGhee architectural firm of El Paso, Texas and funded through the estate of Alice Montgomery Branigan as part of the construction of the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library. The Pueblo Revival Style building, designed by McGhee to house the library, has been the home of the Branigan Cultural Center since 1981. Although the mural was privately commissioned, it is included with other public art of the New Mexico WPA-Federal Arts Program because of the period and style in which it was created. In 1935, Lea wrote a letter to Las Cruces Mayor J. Benson Newell, a copy of which is displayed below the mural. In the letter he discusses the historical background of the mural and his choice of depicting the Franciscan Friars’ bringing the first books to New Mexico in the early 17th century.

New Mexico State University

1780 E University Ave, Las Cruces, NM
(575) 646-0111

Two murals hang in the entryway of the Branson Library on the NMSU campus. The murals were originally painted in 1934 for the Young Hall Library at New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. They were removed in 1951 during renovations and were unveiled again during homecoming of 1996, after being restored with a grant from the Stockman Family Foundation. In 1934, Gustave Bauman, the WPA administration, hired Lea to paint two murals for “the A and M library in Mesilla.” He received $40.00 a week for his work and the paintings took three months to complete. Lea painted Conquistadors first. It presents several views of the first hundred years of New Mexico history, emphasizing the colonizing efforts of DeVargas and Oñate. The Conquest, the Pueblo revolt of 1680, and the Re-conquest are all depicted. The second painting is Old Mesilla. This mural depicts the historical events in and around the Mesilla area in the 19th Century such as the Gadsden Purchase and agricultural fields.