CONNECTING THE REGIONAL HISTORIES OF FIFTEEN COMMUNITIES IN TEXAS, NEW MEXICO, AND MEXICO.
Explore the map above, and click a city from the list below for more information.
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 © 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:h
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
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.(Tom Lea, A Picture Gallery, Boston: Little, 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
1 Arts Festival Plaza, El Paso, TX 79901
Preliminary design for stained glass window, First Presbyterian Church, El Paso, 1959. Ink and Watercolor, 13 X 9. El Paso Museum of Art, Collection of Mr. & Mrs. George Yelderman.
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 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
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
Portrait of Carl Hertzog, 1946 Brush and Chinese ink, 23″ x 17″ © James D. Lea
Sixth floor Hertzog Room
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 and later renamed Texas Western College. The University Library Building was completed in 1984.
University of Texas at El Paso
Cabeza de Vaca Exploring the Paso del Norte in 1536, 1936. Lintel over Centennial Museum entrance.
Larry Durham Center
2824 Sun Bowl Dr,
El Paso, TX 79902
The Turning Point, 1966 Oil on canvas, 31 x 42 inches
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,” (Tom Lea, A Picture Gallery, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968, pp. 156-157).
International Museum of Art
1211 Montana Ave El Paso, TX 79902
Pasaron Por Aqui, 1960, drawing for lintel over Brown Street door. Collection of Rick & Ginger Francis, El Paso, TX
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 © James D. Lea
The First Recorded Surgical Operation in North America; Cabeza de Vaca, 1535, 1965. Chinese ink painting, 20 X 28. Collection of Moody Medical Library, U.T. Medical Branch, Galveston.
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.
4551 E. 52nd St, Odessa, TX 79762
Stampede mural, 1940 Oil on canvas, 5 1/2 x 16 feet Post Office, Odessa, Texas © James D. Lea
On loan to the Ellen Noel Art Museum, Odessa, Texas.
The first work I did there was on the easel, a mural design in one-inch scale. I called it ‘Stampede’ – it was for a new post office at Odessa, Texas, about seventy miles from a crossing of the Pecos River. The first verse of ‘Little Joe the Wrangler’ was easy to remember:
We was camping on the Pecos when the wind began to blow,
And we doubled up the guard to hold them tight,
When the storm came roaring from the north with thunder
and with rain,
And the herd stampeded off into the night.
Snuffy cattle, epic times of drivers on long trails, were alive and kicking in my mind. (Tom Lea, A Picture Gallery, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968, pp. 35).
210 N Washington
Comanches, mural, 1942 Oil on canvas 5 x 13 feet 7 inches © James D. Lea
From the time he was a boy, Tom Lea was fascinated with Indian cultures. His father collected Casas Grandes pottery and the family visited Mimbres Hot Springs during the summer. When visiting Santa Fe, he would go to the Santo Domingo pueblo and see the corn dance or visit the Hopi pueblo at Walpi in Arizona. When attending the Art Institute of Chicago, he longed for home and would study the green bound Bureau of Ethnology reports from the Smithsonian Institution. It was natural, then, for him to paint Comanches for Seymour, Texas. Even though the town was founded by settlers from Oregon and named for a local cowboy, the extraordinary skill of the Comanches as mounted warriors in the region held greater interest for Tom Lea.
The Hall of State at Fair Park
3939 Grand Avenue
Murals on North and South Walls, Dealey Library (West Texas Room), 1936 Oil on canvas, 7 x 13 feet © James D. Lea
When Dallas was preparing for the 1936 Texas Centennial celebration, Tom Lea was chosen to paint murals for the West Texas Room. He was an El Paso native and the quality of his murals was well known after he won a national competition for the Ben Franklin Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. the year before.
The mural above the cowhide wall is a central cowboy surrounded by horsemen and cattle. A windmill, tank, corral, and Texas hills in the background provide additional details of life on the range. The mural on the opposite wall is a pioneer family traveling over rocky country perched high over a homestead and town. Though West Texas in theme, the Renaissance master Luca Signorelli’s murals were a great influence on the artist.
Tom Lea worked from life and used Lawrence Cooper – his father’s friend from Sherman, New Mexico who was a great roper and wore “batwing” chaps – as his model for the central figure. Since Cooper was such an “ugly old rascal,” Tom Lea chose a cowman from Sierra Blanca, Texas for the head. Joe and Marjorie Lea, Tom’s brother and sister-in-law, posed for the pioneer couple and his younger brother, Dick, posed for the boy.
The Dallas Historical Society was organized on March 31, 1922, by 101 prominent citizens who wished to encourage historical inquiry. In 1938, the Society assumed the management of the magnificent Hall of State at the request of the City of Dallas. The Hall of State is one of the finest examples of art deco architecture in the country and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a part of Fair Park.
In 1986, the building was restored at a cost of approximately $1.5 million, and the G.B. Dealey Library was opened in the West Texas Room. The Historical Society is the oldest historical organization in Dallas County that is committed to preserving the area’s entire history. The Historical Society preserves rare Dallas and Texas-related three-dimensional objects, including James Fannin’s watch and Santa Anna’s Texas Campaign medal. The G.B. Dealey library holds more than ten thousand bound volumes and three million historic documents, including Sam Houston’s handwritten account of the battle of San Jacinto. All materials are stored in the Society’s archives in the Hall of State and in a storage facility nearby.
George W. Bush Presidential Center
2943 SMU Blvd Dallas, TX 75205
Rio Grande, 1954. Oil on canvas, 22 x 32. Collection of the El Paso Museum of Art, gift of Robert and Maureen Decherd in memory of Isabelle Thomason Decherd and H. Ben Decherd.
A reproduction of Tom Lea’s Rio Grande is displayed in the full-scale replica of the Oval Office. President Bush often quoted Tom Lea’s optimistic words about living on the east side of the mountain – it is the sunrise side, not the sunset side. It is the side to see the day that is coming, not the side to see the day that is gone. The best day is the day coming, with the work to do, with the eyes wide open, with the heart grateful.
Texas Ranger Hall of Fame Museum
100 Texas Ranger Trail, Waco, Texas 76706
Yonder’s Fort Fisher and Here’s a Recruit, 1968 Oil on canvas, 32 x 26
In his depictions of the Texas Rangers or Texas Frontier life, Tom Lea drew attention to the vast expanse of the state’s natural terrain and the people who were responsible for its laws. In this oil painting, Lea frames the portrait of a young man on horseback headed towards Fort Fisher.
Lea’s notes on the back of the work state that this was a “Working drawing for the figure of Texas Ranger Sergeant James B. Gillett for the painting…”.
The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum complex is dedicated to the history and lore of the legendary Texas Rangers – the oldest state law enforcement agency in the nation and an enduring symbol of Texas and the American West.
Since 1823, the Texas Rangers have represented the highest ideals of Texas and America to admirers around the world. Individually, the Texas Rangers are some of the most colorful heroes in American history. Together, the brought peace to an untamed frontier, and in the process became one of the most famous and respected crime-fighting forces anywhere.
Founded in 1968, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum houses the largest existing collection of artifacts related to the Texas Rangers, some dating back to their Spanish and Mexican origins. Among the treasures are Texas Ranger badges, firearms, tack and personal gear.
The Hall of Fame memorializes Texas Rangers who gave their lives in the line of duty or served with great distinction.
Texas Collection, Carroll Library, 1429 S. 5th Street, Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Portrait of R.E. B. Baylor, 1970 Chinese ink painting, 12 x 16 inches © James D. Lea
The portrait of Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, for whom Baylor University is named, appears as the frontispiece of “Baylor at Independence” by Mrs. Lois Smith Murray, a Baylor English professor who provided pictures of Judge Baylor to Tom Lea from which he rendered the portrait. Tom Lea later gave his painting to the University through his good friend from Waco, Dr. Frank Connally, who presented it to President Abner V. McCall in February of 1971. Tom Lea received an honorary doctorate from the University for his lifetime achievements in 1967.
Student Memorial Center, Texas A&M
275 Joe Routt Blvd, College Station, TX 77844
Old Breed, New Brotherhood, 1996. Oil on board, 44.5 X 29. Collection of Art WWII
On this campus visit and learn about President George H.W. Bush and Desert Storm through Tom’s painting Old Breed, New Brotherhood, a drawing done of a Fort Bliss soldier who posed for Lea after returning from battle. Learn more about Medal of Honor winners in the Student Memorial Center on the Texas A&M campus.
Texas State Capitol
112 E 11th St, Austin, TX 78701
Ranger Escort West of the Pecos, 1965 Oil on canvas, 36″ x 52″ © James D. Lea
The state capitol is the permanent location of Ranger Escort West of the Pecos, 1965. This painting was a gift from C. R. Smith, Chairman of the Board of American Air Lines to the State of Texas.
One of the treasured books I had taken from my father’s den after his death in 1945 was Six Years with the Texas Rangers, 1875 to 1881 by James B. Gillett, Ex-Sergeant Company ‘A’, Frontier Battalion. A bold old-fashioned hand had inscribed the front flyleaf. ‘To My Friend Tom Lea with sincere good wishes, J. B. Gillett Dec. 25th 1921.’ Rereading it, the book spoke to me almost as if the old ranger and my father both were present in my studio. On page 49 I came to the words, ‘Oh, how I wish I had the power to describe the wonderful country as I saw it then. How happy I am now in my old age that I am a native Texan and saw the grand frontier before it was marred by the hand of man.
Fifteen years afterwards I would be carrying those words in my mind yet, and coming back to them, composing a horseback portrait of Sergeant Jim Gillett riding into the wonderful country as he saw it then.(Tom Lea, A Picture Gallery, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968, pp. 117-118).
The Blanton Museum
200 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Austin, TX 78701
This museum is located on the University of Texas campus and has three Tom Lea paintings within its collection: The Lead Steer, 1941: The Year it Rained, 1975; and, the study for the Stampede mural, 1940.
In preparing to illustrate J.Frank Dobie’s book The Longhorns in 1940, Tom Lea joined Dobie “on a prowl to see Longhorns….” He wrote about the experience:
I never had a better time. We looked at brush country of the brushiest kind. We found Longhorns; I think we saw most of the surviving examples of the unimproved old Texan breed. There were not many. At night we made camp alongside cowtracks on grassy ground. Sometimes we were guests at a ranch house. We went horseback with our hosts into far pastures, into thorny jungles of lacy-leafed mesquite.
The trip took us on a wide loop past Carrizo Springs to the Chupadero Ranch, down the old river road through Laredo and beyond to the San Antonio Viejo and El Randado in Jim Hogg Country, through Hebbronville and Falfurrias to the Kenedy headquarters, to the King Ranch, to the old Dobie property in Live Oak County where Frank had spent his youth and where we camped under a grandfather oak on Lagarto Creek. We headed north through Austin, through a steer pasture near Fort Worth, and father north to a Red River crossing where trail herds and their drivers once swam the muddy water into old Indian territory. North of Cache, Oklahoma, we entered the reservation of the Wichita Wildlife Refuge where the Federal government maintained, in addition to the native protected wild fauna, a breed herd and some mighty steers of the Longhorn blood. We camped there by a spring at the foot of a knoll. From the coming up until the going down of the summer sun we watched the cattle, the shine of light on the stately horns, the play of muscle and sinew under hide and hair of so many reds, browns, blacks, duns roans, motleys, brindles…We escaped from our time, we lived a hundred years ago… (Tom Lea, A Picture Gallery, Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1968, pps 36-37)
From that trip came Tom Lea’s study for Stampede and the subsequent mural in the Odessa Post Office. Also from that trip came his illustrations for J. Frank Dobie’s book and The Lead Steer, purchased by C.R. Smith – the first President of American Airlines – who was a great collector of western art.
The art museum of the University of Texas at Austin was created from an unexpected land gift from Archer M. Huntington in 1927. The gallery space, formally named the University Art Museum and housed in the new building for the university art department, opened in 1963. The museum’s permanent collection expanded between the 1960s and 1980s through important acquisitions and generous gifts from donors such as C. R. Smith. In 1972 the permanent collection moved to a larger gallery space in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center and in 1980, the University Art Museum was renamed the Archer M. Huntington Gallery. The museum’s still-expanding permanent collection prompted the gifts that renamed the museum the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art.
Harry Ransom Center
21st, Austin, TX 78712
Madame Chiang, 1943. Watercolor, 25-½ X 20. Tom Lea Collection, HRHRC, U.T., Austin.
The Sarah and Tom Lea art collection consists of the artist’s personal art works, including book illustrations, paintings, drawings, and lithographs. The subjects include Texana art, landscapes, portraits, bullfighting scenes, WWII images, and illustrations for books by Lea, such as The Wonderful Country, The Brave Bulls, and The Primal Yoke, and illustrations for books by J. Frank Dobie.
The collection includes over 200 works completed while Lea attended the Art Institute of Chicago and later while living in Santa Fe. The items include pencil sketches, charcoal, ink, blue pencil, sketches of models and designs for murals and advertising art, Native-American design motifs, linoleum block prints from New Mexico, and one etching. Other art works by Tom Lea can be found in the J. Frank Dobie Art Collection.
The Tom Lea papers (in the Center’s manuscript collection) consist of typescript and holograph manuscripts, printed books and pamphlets, photographs, galleys, page proofs, pasteups, mockups, layouts, drawings, transparencies, dust jackets, postcards, correspondence, printed advertisements, invitations, clippings, newspapers, programs, tickets, and a menu.
The Tom Lea photography collection (in the Center’s photography collection) includes images of Lea, his wife, other family members, and friends. There are also photographic reproductions of some of his paintings and images associated with the movie production of his book The Brave Bulls, as well as a series of photographs by Lea of the Peleliu landing.
Texas State Cemetery
909 Navasota St, Austin, TX 78702
The Tom Lea cenotaph….The front has a bronze relief of Mount Franklin with Tom Lea’s quote: Sarah and I live on the east side of our mountain. It Is the sunrise side, not the sunset side. It is the side to see the day that is coming, not the side to see the day that is gone. The best day is the day coming, with the work to do, with the eyes wide open, with the heart grateful.
The reverse side highlights Lea’s accomplishments.
The Texas State Cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of honored Texans from elected officials to cultural luminaries. Governors, judges, authors, artists and Republic of Texas heroes are buried within 18 acres of carefully landscaped state land just a mile east of the Capitol. The Cemetery was founded in 1851 upon the death of Edward Burleson, San Jacinto veteran and Vice President of the Republic of Texas.
Bullock Texas State History Museum
1800 Congess Avenue, Austin, Texas
The museum’s stunning rotunda has quotes from famous Texans on Texas, including Tom Lea. The quote in its entirety reads:
ITS RICHNESS IS IN SPACE,
WIDE AND DEEP AND INFINITELY COLORED,
VISIBLE TO THE JAGGED MOUNTAIN RIM OF THE WORLD –
HUGE AND CHALLENGING SPACE,
TO EVOKE HIGH AND CHALLENGING FREEDOM.
National Museum of the Pacific War
340 E Main St, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
That 2,000-Yard Stare, 1944 Oil on canvas, 36″ x 28″ U.S. Army Center for Military History, Washington, D.C. © James D. Lea
Tom Lea was an artist correspondent during World War II, traveling over 100,000 miles. He was aboard the USS Hornet in the South Pacific and landed on Peleliu with the 7th Marines. There are many videos, artifacts and images presented at this museum and a reproduction of Tom Lea’s That 2,000 Yard Stare introduces visitors to the bloody beaches of Peleliu.
At sundown I started back toward the now crowded beach, hoping to find a ride to a ship beyond the range of fire offshore, where my fingers could grip a pencil more steadily and I could fulfill the purpose of my own Peleliu landing, shaping pictures and words.
I left my friends in the long shadows on the coral grit by the mangled trees. We gave handshakes and grins, of a meaning that to this day remains ineffable.
On the way to the beach I had to pass by sick bay. It was still in the big shellhole, with the torn men on the stretchers, on the ground. I passed by a tattered marine standing too quietly by a corpsman, staring stiffly at nothing. His mind had crumbled in battle, his jaw hung, and his eyes were like two black empty holes in his head. Down on the beach I walked past the long, long line of dead marines under the tarpaulins. A far flurry of artillery fire and a stutter – burst of high staccato from a Nambu worried the smoky air. A mortar shell hit cracking in the trees. The Coxswain stopped a DUKW to let me climb in and we churned out to catch an LCVP in deeper water beyond the reef. (A Picture Gallery, Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1968, pp. 94).
Moody Medical Library
914 Market Street, Galveston, TX 77555
Ashbel Smith, M.D., 1974, Chinese ink on paper.
While El Paso is home to the study, the Moody Medical Library is home to the final drawing of The First Recorded Surgical Operation in North America: Cabeza de Vaca, 1535, painted in 1965 for the Texas Surgical Society and reproduced in The Texas Surgical Society: The First Fifty Years, Edited by Robert S. Sparkman, M.D. and designed and printed by Carl Hertzog. Dr. Sparkman posed for the hands of Cabeza de Vaca.
The Library also owns Tom Lea portraits of Ashbell Smith, 1974 and Dr. Truman Graves Blocker Jr., M.D., 1975, painted in Chinese ink.
The King Ranch
2205 Texas 141, Kingsville, TX 78363
Big Thirty-Foot Wheels at Big Barkly Downs, 1973. Oil on canvas, 30 X 24. Collection of Kings Ranch, Kingsville. ©KING RANCH, INC.
In 1951 the Kleberg family asked me if I would write ad illustrate a fairly brief monograph – I could decide on the length of it myself – narrating the colorful history of their King Ranch, a volume for presentation to the ranch’s friends, marking and celebrating the King Ranch’s centennial year, 1953. To speed and to facilitate the necessary assemblage of material for my use, the ranch would employ the experienced journalistic talents of my friend Holland McCombs to round up and rope down whatever historical facts, figures and details the work might require. To design and to produce a suitably handsome volume in a limited edition, the ranch sought the typographic talents of my friend Carl Hertzog. We met for discussion in El Paso, surveyed a cursory outline for the project, and signed on for the job. We thought it would demand about a year of work…
It got longer every day.
There was a very great deal of ranch, and there was just as much story as there was ranch, an epic story nobody had ever put together accurately, a dramatic story nobody had fastened down on paper.
I decided a monograph would not hold it. There would have to be a book. The more I saw, the more I heard, the more research material Holland handed me to read, the more I looked Carl straight in the eye, the more I stood with Dick over the chute at the Calandria pens, the more I sat on Bob and Helen’s porch at the Norias, the more book.
No matter what I did, at the King Ranch or on Savannah Street, more book. Thicker and thicker. Pretty soon a tome. With footnotes. And appendices. Indexed. Satanás y sus cuernos – what if it wasn’t one tome? Suppose it was two. Gradually I realized the situation. I had signed on for a tour as a two-tome historian.
It did not take a year. It took five.
It was finished four years after the ranch celebrated its centenary. The two volumes were issued in a limited edition printed for the ranch, as planned; a trade edition followed, printed at El Paso from the same plates, published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston.
Volume one of The King Ranch is essentially a biography of Richard King, his pioneer life and times as a steamboater and a stockman in South Texas. Of wider disparity in its material, and necessarily so. Volume two is a biographical memoir of a huge property and three generations of a family which made that property into the greatest ranch in the world. Throughout the writing of both volumes I sought to keep in continual sight the prime and transcendent theme of the entire work, a theme that moves me profoundly and always will, the three words I placed in summation and in capital letters as the final line at the end of Volume Two: HERDS AND GRASS
(A Picture Gallery, Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1968, pp. 124-128).
Illustration from Randado. El Paso: Carl Hertzog, 1941.
The trip with Frank in the summer of 1940 made me a better painter….I tried to write what I could not paint.
Where carne seca hung in the sun by the cook house,
And the smoke curled blue over iron braseros,
And old Viscaya sat in the shade,
Damping down dust in his leather gullet
With brandy like the sun on the fire-dazzled side
Of El Bolsòn de Mapimì.
He drank the wine of the New World straight
And his cup left a ring on the table.
When they asked for a horse brand at El Randado*
He sat bemused, then grinned like a wolf,
And showed them the print of his cup!
This was the mark of El Randado
He sat bemused, then grinned like a wolf,
And showed them the print of his cup!
This was the mark of El Randado,
Round ring of the world, and mark of fire
On the flanks of ten thousand horses –
• Spoken, “Ran-DOW.”
Naturally I could not resist making a few drawings to go with the few pages of words when they were done. I showed my effort to Carl Hertzog who printed it handsomely, a thin booklet titled Randado, in an edition of one hundred copies dated February, 1941; it was the first work of mine to appear in print containing text and illustrations by the same hand. (A Picture Gallery, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968, pp. 40-41).
Branigan Cultural Center
501 N. Main Street, Las Cruces, NM 88001
A Franciscan Friar Showing a Book to Indians in the 17th Century, 1933 Watercolor study for mural, 6 x 13 inches. 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 has been the home of the Branigan Cultural Center since 1981. In 1935, Lea wrote a letter to Las Cruces Mayor J. Benson Newell, in which he discusses the historical background for the mural and why he chose the subject of the Franciscans bringing the first books to New Mexico.
New Mexico State University
1780 E University Ave, Las Cruces, NM
Old Mesilla, 1934, Oil on Canvas
In 1934, Gustave Bauman, an administrator for the Works Progress Administration hired Tom 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. Conquistadors presents New Mexico’s early history: the colonization of Don Juan de Oñate; the Pueblo Revolt and Spanish retreat; and the entradaand re-conquest of Don Diego de Vargas.
Old Mesilla, depicts Mesilla valley agriculture, ranching and life in town, as well as 19th century historical events such as the Gadsden Purchase, Apache attacks and the First Battle of Mesilla.
New Mexico Museum of Art
107 W Palace Ave, Santa Fe, NM 87501
Snake Dancers, 1933 Oil on canvas, 61″ x 41″ Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe © James D. Lea
Tom and Nancy Lea lived in Santa Fe from 1933 until 1935. Living in a one-room adobe they constructed on land provided by artist Fremont Ellis, Tom made a meager living doing illustrations for the Laboratory of Anthropology and painting for the WPA (Works Progress Administration). His illustration work is found in The “Rain Bird”: A Study in Pueblo Design by H. P. Mera, 1938. Four paintings came to the New Mexico Museum of Art, resulting from Tom’s work for the WPA: Lenador, 1934; Snake Dancers, 1933; Government Aid to the Needy, 1934; and Employment in Public Works, 1934.
For more information on the Tom Lea Trail
Tom Lea Institute
201 E. Main, Suite 100
El Paso, Texas 79901
Phone: (915) 533-0048