Remembering Tom Lea, Fellow, Texas State
ARTIST/AUTHOR TOM LEA'S DEATH IN AN EL PASO HOSPITAL ON
January 29, 2ool, ended a relationship with the Texas State
Historical Association that began prior to America's entry into World
War II. Then-executive director Walter Prescott Webb had wanted El
Paso printer Carl Hertzog to put in print a master's thesis on the
Santa Rita oil discovery that had been prepared by Martin
Schwettmann, Webb's graduate student. Copies were to be handed
out at the association's annual meeting in 1939. It was part of a cam-
paign that Professor Webb was orchestrating to move the long-aban-
doned rig from its original site near Texon to the University of Texas
campus in Austin. Hertzog duly asked his new friend, Tom Lea, to
provide art work, which he did. (The originals are now held at the
university's Humanities Research Center.) At that point, however,
plans began going awry. Publication of the narrative was delayed by a
threatened lawsuit on the part of one of the principals in the great
discovery. By the time the project materialized in 1943, America and
Tom Lea were in the heat of battle. But this is getting substantially
ahead of the story.
Born at El Paso on July 11, 1907, Lea was the son of a celebrated
lawyer who later served as the town's mayor. From earliest childhood
young Lea knew he wanted to be an artist. After graduating from El Paso
High School in 1924 he matriculated at the Art Institute of Chicago,
where he studied for two years under maestro John Norton. During his
second year he met and married Nancy Jean Taylor, a fellow student.
Both were nineteen. Later he served as an apprentice in Norton's studio,
completed several commissions of his own, and became a commercial
* Former TSHA president Al Lowman made Tom Lea's acquaintance in El Paso about 1964.
In 1969 he organized an exhibit of Lea's work at the University of Texas Institute of Texan
Cultures at San Antonio and prepared the catalogue for that exhibit. He has collected Lea's
books and prints from more than forty years.
SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
VOL. CV, NO. 1
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/. Accessed August 3, 2015.