Tom Lea Exhibit

In celebration of Tom Lea month (October) and in co-operation with the Tom Lea Institute of El Paso, The Honorable Tom Phillips will speak on Judge R.E.B. Baylor on October 23. In 1971, Tom Lea presented two portraits of Judge R.E.B. Baylor to President Abner McCall. The first portrait was a working drawing and the second was a drawing using rare Chinese ink on French-made paper. Lea received an honorary doctorate from Baylor in 1967.

Judge Phillips' lecture is "Texas Law in One Saddlebag, the Holy Bible in the Other: The Life of R.E.B. Baylor." The lecture will be given on Wednesday, October 23 at 4:00 p.m., in the Guy B. Harrison Reading Room. The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception will directly follow the lecture. For more information contact 710.1268.
Tom Lea was born in El Paso, Texas on July 11, 1907. His father was Tom Lea, Jr. a lawyer and later the mayor of El Paso. His mother was Zola Utt Lea. Lea grew up in El Paso and attended public schools from 1912-1924. Lea decided to go north for art training and attended the Art Institute in Chicago from 1924-1926, studying briefly under John Werner Norton and becoming his apprentice. From 1926-1933, Lea continued to live and work in Chicago as a painter. In 1930 he travelled to Europe and studied the works of Eugene Delacroix in Paris and Piero della Francesca and Luca Signorelli in Italy. Lea returned for a short time to Chicago and then moved back to the Southwest in 1933 and to El Paso in 1936. From that point on Lea began his prolific working life as an artist and writer.

Lea is best known for his murals a few of these are:

  • Texas Centennial celebration, Dallas;
  • Branigan Library, Las Cruces;
  • Benjamin Franklin Post Office, Washington, D.C.;
  • Federal Courthouse, El Paso, Texas;
  • Burlington Railroad Station, Lacrosse, Wisconsin;
  • Post Office, Pleasant Hill, Missouri;
  • El Paso Public Library;
  • Post Office, Odessa, Texas; and
  • Post Office, Seymour, Texas.

Several of his well-known books that he wrote and illustrated are:

  • Peleliu (1945);
  • The Brave Bulls (1949); (movie)
  • The Wonderful Country (1952); (movie) and
  • The King Ranch (1957).

In the late 1930s Lea met Carl Hertzog and J. Frank Dobie. They remained friends and collaborators throughout his lifetime.
It is interesting to note that Lea generally painted portraits for friends. He only made two exceptions in his life, the first was a portrait of Benito Juarez (1948) and the second was for Sam Rayburn (1967).
In 1967, Baylor paid tribute to Tom Lea for his "major contributions to the culture of Texas and the Southwest," conferring an honorary doctor of literature degree upon him and book publisher Carl Hertzog. (Press release from 2/24/71)
Throughout the 1960s, Lois Smith Murray had been working on an early history of Baylor University from 1845 until its move from Independence to Waco in 1886. Tom Lea drew the portrait you see here that appeared in the front of the volume. The finished portrait is 12" x 16" and is done in rare Chinese ink on French-made paper.