by Myrna Zanetell
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Tom Lea Month highlights
trail named after EP artist
It’s a done deal. On June 12, 2017, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot signed Senate Bill 982 into law, officially creating the Tom Lea History Trail. Modeled on the Piero Della Francesca Trail in Italy, which draws millions of visitors each year, the newly designated route is the only one of its kind in the United States.
Running through 11 cities in Texas, plus detours to Las Cruces and Ciudad Juarez, the trail begins in El Paso and heads east, creating a heart-shaped route whose high points include Dallas, Waco, College Station, Austin and Fredericksburg, and with legs south to Kingsville and Galveston Island. Those fortunate enough to traverse the entire route will gain valuable insights into Tom Lea — the artist and the man. The El Paso-based Tom Lea Institute is highlighting the Trail as its primary focus during Tom Lea Month October 2017.
El Paso is the ideal starting point for the journey, as it was Lea’s hometown and the wellspring for his creative life. His father, Tom Lea Sr., was a prominent defense attorney who also served two years term as mayor of El Paso during the height of the Mexican Revolution. Lea Jr. studied two years at the Art Institute of Chicago, followed by a five-year apprenticeship with renowned muralist John Norton. By the time he returned to El Paso in the mid-1930s, Lea was already a professional artist with several major works to his credit. Although eastern art centers such as New York and Chicago had already begun to move towards modernism and abstraction, Lea held fast to the genre of realism tempered with a bit of drama that became his hallmark style.
Travelers who take time to fully immerse themselves in the murals, drawings and literary works to be found along the trail will soon recognize time-honored themes that pervaded Lea’s works, such as enthusiasm for the state’s frontier past, admiration of the heroism in the lives of ordinary people and beauty in the austere landscapes of the desert Southwest.
An outstanding example of the role everyday people played in the history of the region can be found in the mural “Pass of the North.” Gracing the walls of the El Paso Federal Courthouse, it pays tribute to the unwritten heroism of those who first settled this remote frontier. Twelve feet high and 53 feet in length, the mural depicts an array of individuals which have come to be known as the “Twelve Travelers,” a larger than life collection of figures that includes a U.S. soldier, a Franciscan priest, Mexican vaquero, pioneer settlers and Apache Indians. Honoring these forerunners, Lea wrote, “O, Pass of the North, now the old giants are gone, we little men live where heroes once walked the untrammeled earth.”
Traveling the El Paso segment of the Tom Lea Trail will not be complete without viewing “Southwest”, the 20-foot long mural in the El Paso Public Library, and a visit to the Tom Lea Gallery at the El Paso Museum of Art. In conjunction with Tom Lea Month 2017, the EPMA has mounted a special exhibition entitled, “Tom Lea: Watercolors and Washes,” which will be on display in the Peter and Margaret de Wetter Gallery from Oct. 6 to Dec. 3, featuring a selection of both early and later works. Visitors can view personal memorabilia that will include mural proposals, book illustrations and renderings from WWII, plus historical views of the El Paso region such as the iconic Sunset Grocery.
Lea also served as a war correspondent for Life Magazine. Although most of the 82 works that portray his illustrative skills are archived in the U.S. Army Center of Military History at Fort Belvoir, Va., a reproduction of his famed work, “The 2000 Yard Stare,” remains on display at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg.
Lisa Pugh, director of the Tom Lea Institute, gave some good news for Lea’s Borderland enthusiasts: In two years the Institute has plans to bring the entire collection to El Paso in conjunction with the 75th Anniversary of the landing on the Pacific island of Peleliu, which Lea recorded with detailed insight and historical accuracy.
Another special exhibition, “Casas Grandes Pottery and Painted Watercolors from the Tom Lea Collection,” will be on view at El Paso Museum of Archeology Oct. 1-31. Jeff Romney, director of the museum, will present the lecture, “The Pottery of Casas Grandes and the Lea Family Collection” Sunday, Oct. 29, providing insights into the pottery collection amassed by Tom Lea Sr. during the 1920s.
The collections dates back to the “Casas Grande Medio period 1200 to 1450,” Romney said. “In 1928, his son created a catalog of 20 watercolor paintings based on pieces from his father’s collection. Our exhibit will include 10 of these watercolors plus their corresponding pottery: nine polychromes (vessels painted with red and black designs on white or tan backgrounds) and a plain ware effigy piece, which were loaned to us by Tom’s son, James Lea.”
Romney added that the museum will hold an open house from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15 to celebrate its 40th anniversary. In addition to museum tours, a variety of activities will entertain and inform the younger generation.
Titovets 25th anniversary
Although it seems like just yesterday when Sasha and Lyuba Titovets emigrated from Russia to make their home in El Paso, the couple is now presenting a 25th anniversary exhibit at the home of Janet and Randy Wechter at 804 Don Quixote in the Upper Valley. The exhibition, comprised of about 25 paintings, mostly new work, will be on display 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, October 14-15. The exhibition will also serve as a fundraiser for the El Paso Symphony Orchestra.
Reminiscing about events since their arrival in El Paso in 1982, Lyuba shared, “It’s been a long and exciting quarter of a century of inventing, creating and staying in business. Sasha did his first painting on the balcony of the apartment which my aunt and uncle rented for us. Since then many people have come into our lives, not only making us feel welcome but also supporting us as artists. Each and every one will remain in our memories forever.”
Lyuba added, “Needless to say, we wouldn’t be celebrating 25 years here if my uncle and my parents had not been brave enough to come to a new country, and if El Paso art lovers and collectors such as the Wechters had not embraced us as part of their family. Thank you, El Paso! Come to celebrate with us and support great art.”
Myrna Zanetell is a freelance writer
specializing in the visual arts.
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