Tom Lea: An Oral History. Edited by Rebecca Craver and Adair Margo. (El Paso:
Texas Western Press, 1996. Pp. x+185+. Preface, introduction, illustra-
tions, color plates, selected bibliography, index. ISBN 0-87404-234-8. $40,
For all his many and notable friendships, Tom Lea remains a shy and intense-
ly private man, but one who has always known his own mind. His sixty-year mar-
riage to Illinois native Sarah Dighton began in 1937 with a whirlwind courtship
that gave new meaning to the term. With her immense capacity for gracious
diplomacy, she has been the one to calm the roiling waters that Lea sometimes
leaves in his wake. It has been a magnificent partnership.
World War II intruded just as Lea's artistic prospects were brightening. Subse-
quently, as an artist correspondent for Life magazine he covered a substantial
part of the globe and was an eyewitness to such horrors as the sinking of the
Wasp in 1942 and the action at Peleliu Landing two years later. His visual repre-
sentations of those events are at the very apex of the "war art" genre. Home from
the front, he painted one of the finest love letters ever composed, "Sarah in the
Summertime," which has hung in their El Paso living room from that day to this.
Lea had written a small amount of vivid, evocative, and touching prose prior
to World War II. He returned to it with a passion after the war and produced a
succession of beautifully crafted novels that, at first, seemed to defy expectations.
But he quickly proved himself adept at two mediums. His dual career is familiar
to members of the Texas State Historical Association by virtue of his artwork for
the association's 1943 publication of Martin Schwettman's Santa Rita: The Univer-
sity of Texas Oil Discovery, and his own masterful telling of The King Ranch story
published in two volumes by Little, Brown and Company of Boston in 1957-
Significant biographical and autobiographical work about Lea might be said
to have started in 1952 when J. Frank Dobie paid him tribute in A Tom Lea Portfo-
lio, published by the University of Texas Press. Since then, there have been titles
such as John O. West's Tom Lea: An Artzst in Two Mediums (Austin: Steck-
Vaughn, 1967) and Lea's own account, A Picture Gallery (Boston: Little, Brown
and Company, 1968). Twenty years later two books surfaced almost simultane-
ously: Haywood Antone's Tom Lea: His Life and Works (El Paso: Texas Western
Press, 1988) and, that same year, Kathleen Hjerter's The Art of Tom Lea from
Texas A&M University Press. Dobie did a good job of capturing Lea's multifac-
eted personality. West and Antone were focused on the virtues of his writing.
Hjerter led off with a personal memoir by longtime Lea friend, William Weber
Johnson, a journalist friend from Lea's Life magazine days. These contributions
and Lea's own A Picture Gallery were limited by his reluctance to talk much about
himself and his motivations or the circumstances that led to the creation of cer-
tain works of art. His position has always been "Let the result speak for itself."
Yet readers and viewers alike often enjoy knowing about these circumstances
and motivations. This latest contribution allows us a peek at that process.
It is a book of pictures and transcribed conversations with minimal-in some
cases too minimal-editorial intervention. For one well into his ninth decade,
Lea's memory is remarkable, if not downright incredible. Too often the editors
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101218/. Accessed March 3, 2015.