Tom Lea Month

2015 List of events

Her call came the week of Aug. 3, just as we were finishing up the listing of programs for Tom Lea Month 2015. A family friend, A.J. DeGroat needed an appraisal of her Tom Lea art since her insurance company was requesting an update. Eager to see the paintings, I drove up the Franklin Mountains the next day, having told her the Tom Lea Institute was building a digital library and, if she’d pay to digitally photograph what she had, I’d give her the appraisals. Entering her home, I was thrilled to see the paintings on her walls.

FirstSketch1944

Tom Lea “Down from Bloody Nose Too Late, He’s finished washed up Gone” 8 ½” x 10 ¾”, Graphite and ink, 1944 A.J. Degroat Collection, El Paso, Copyright James D. Lea Photographed by Marty Snortum

In the living room was “Dream of a Fair River: Yang-Tze,” a bird’s-eye view of a Chinese hillside patch-worked with tilled earth on the shore of a wide, milky river with misty mountains in the background. The figures are so small I could not see their faces as they go about their daily lives in their part of the world. The landscape is vast, sparking in me an awareness of our own diminutive size. Tom painted it in 1946, three years after visiting China during the war.

In the next room, I saw above the red brick fireplace, a handsome portrait of Dr. Bob Homan, DeGroat’s father and childhood friend of Tom Lea’s. Tom chose whose portraits he painted, never accepting commissions. It pleased him to have his portraits in the homes of a few friends, a constant reminder of their friendship and his admiration for them. Homan, whom Tom knew since the third grade, kept a scrapbook of his artist friend’s many LIFE articles while Tom was away as an artist correspondent during World War II. In the portrait Homan is as handsome as Cary Grant, his slightly turned profile chiseled and strong, his eyes with a fixed and determined gaze.

After showing me a small ink wash of a calf branding, the forms of man and beast defined through shadow and light, A.J. said, “I found something I’d almost forgotten my father had,” leaving the  room to retrieve it. Returning with a leather folder impressed with letters reading “Tom Lea The Two Thousand Yard Stare,” she laid it on the table. Slowly opening it, I lifted a sheet of tissue so thin I could almost see what was underneath. There, on a piece of paper with ink marks as visibly agitated as the day they were put down, and with an inscription equally shaky, was the head of a man looking at nothing with these words written beside it: “Down from Bloody Nose   Too Late   He’s Finished—Washed Up—Gone.”

Tom Lea “That 2,000 Yard Stare” 36” x 28” Oil on canvas, 1944 Life Collection of Art WWII, USACMH, Washington, D.C. Copyright James D. Lea Photograph courtesy of US Army

Tom Lea “That 2,000 Yard Stare” 36” x 28” Oil on canvas, 1944 Life Collection of Art WWII, USACMH, Washington, D.C. Copyright James D. Lea Photograph courtesy of US Army

Tom Lea’s most famous picture of World War II is called “That 2,000 Yard Stare,” a testament to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, often reproduced in articles on the subject. At the entrance to the Peleliu exhibit at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX, an enlarged version introduces the American assault on Peleliu, a brutal battle in the Palau Islands with the highest casualty rate of any amphibious invasion in the Pacific War.

On Sept. 15, 1944, Tom Lea landed with the 7th Marines on the southern end of the island. As an artist correspondent for LIFE magazine, he was a civilian, with no obligation to go. The marines didn’t have a choice, but he did. Yet his desire was to record what the United States Marines experienced in combat and Lea said if he didn’t go, he knew he would be a fake for the rest of his life. Tom Lea stayed with the marines for 32 hours under fire, hunkering down on the beach with mortars coming too close, and running up the slope on coarse coral. Unable to sketch or write, he could only try to keep from getting killed and to memorize what he saw and felt. One horrific scene was a man with his face a “half bloody pulp and the mangled shreds of what was left of an arm hung down like a stick…The half of his face that was still human had the most terrifying look of abject patience I have ever seen,” said Lea.

The evening of the second day, he returned to a naval vessel offshore, making drawings and writing his experience before his hand could stop trembling. About the shattered marine Tom Lea saw as he passed by sick bay before leaving Peleliu, he wrote, “His mind had crumbled in battle, his jaw hung, and his eyes were like two black empty holes in his head.”

Taking a picture of the drawing on the table with my i-Phone, I sent it to Joe Cavanaugh, director of the National Museum of the Pacific War, telling him about my find. For four years we had worked on a Tom Lea exhibit that will be part of Tom Lea Month in October 2015. The NMPW, located in the hometown of Admiral Chester Nimitz whom Tom Lea met at Pearl Harbor, will exhibit 26 paintings on loan from the U.S. Army Center of Military History at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Among the paintings is the famous “That 2,000 Yard Stare.”

Speechless at first, Joe blurted, “We’ve got to show it!” The next day a loan form was signed and the drawing was on its way to Fredericksburg to be displayed with the painting it inspired, for the first time side by side.

Tom Lea “Sarah in the Summertime” 69’ x 28’, Oil on canvas, 1947 Catherine Lea Weeks Collection, Houston, Copyright James D. Lea Photographed by Marty Snortum

Tom Lea “Sarah in the Summertime” 69’ x 28’, Oil on canvas, 1947
Catherine Lea Weeks Collection, Houston,
Copyright James D. Lea
Photographed by Marty Snortum

With most of Tom Lea’s work inaccessible to the public except for a collection at the El Paso Museum of Art, this Tom Lea Month provides a rare opportunity to see private works at three other public museums listed below. A highlight will be the magnificent “Sarah in the Summertime” he painted right after the war, as if lighting a votive candle in the gratefulness of being home.

Exhibited Works:

“That 2,000 Yard Stare,” 1944

“Down from Bloody Nose Too Late, He’s finished washed up Gone,” 1944

“Sarah in the Summertime,” 1947

National Museum of the Pacific War

340 E Main Street | Fredericksburg, TX (830) 997-8600

Tom Lea, LIFE and World War II

Exhibition on view Oct. 17, 2015 – Jan. 16, 2016

Bullock Texas State History Museum

1800 Congress Avenue | Austin, TX  (512) 936-8746

Tom Lea: Chronicler of the 20th Century America

Exhibition on view Aug. 22, 2015 – Jan. 3, 2016

Events at a Glance

Ongoing:

The Texas Masters Gallery at the Bryan Museum | Galveston, TX

Aug. 4, 2015 – Nov. 29, 2015

Frank Reaugh: Landscapes of Texas and the American West | Harry Ransom Center University of Texas at Austin | Austin, TX

Aug. 22, 2015 – Jan. 3, 2016

Tom Lea: Chronicler of 20th Century America | The Bullock Texas State History Museum | Austin, TX

Aug. 27, 2015

Tom Lea as Draftsman and Illustrator | The El Paso Museum of Art | El Paso, TX

Sept. 19, 2015 – Mar. 20, 2016

Tom Lea Retrospective (Opening Reception Sept. 18 from 6-8 p.m.) | The Museum of the Big Bend | Alpine, TX

Sept. 19

10 a.m. | Knowing the North Star: The Life and Art of Tom Lea by Adair Margo | Morgan University Center | Sul Ross State University | Alpine, TX

6 p.m. | Second Annual Heritage Dinner hosted by the Museum of the Big Bend | Granada Theatre | Alpine, TX

Sept. 24

6 p.m. | Discovering Home: The Guadalupe Mission in Ciudad Juárez by Adair Margo | Mission Trail

Association, Nestor Valencia Mission Valley Visitors Center |Ysleta, TX

Oct. 1, 2015

Made in El Paso: The Traditions, Influence and Legacy of El Paso’s Cowboy Boots | El Paso Museum of History | El Paso, TX

Landscape of the Southwest by Nina Cobb Walker | El Paso Public Library, Main Branch | El Paso, TX

Mills Building Promenade Window Displays  

Oct. 1

11:30 a.m. | The Art and Life of Tom Lea by Adair Margo | El Paso Club | El Paso, TX

7 p.m. | Focus Talk | El Paso Museum of Art | El Paso, TX

Oct. 4

1 p.m. | Screening of The Wonderful Country | El Paso Public Library, Main Branch | El Paso, TX

2:45 p.m. | Screening of Tom Lea: Dignity Beyond Borders | El Paso Public Library, Main Branch | El Paso, TX

5 p.m. | American Aficionados, Tom Lea and Ernst Hemingway by Dr. Mimi Gladstein | Ardovino’s Desert Crossing | Sunland Park, NM

Oct. 5

3 p.m. | Downtown El Paso Educational Mural Tour by Stephanie Bulloch | Historic Federal Courthouse | El Paso, TX

Oct. 6

3 p.m. | by José Mario Sánchez Soledad | Lydia Patterson Institute | El Paso, TX

Oct. 8

2 p.m. | Downtown El Paso Mural Tour Experience the Pass of the North hosted by First Lady of El Paso, Lisa Leeser and led by Carolina Franco and Elisa Garrido | Historic Federal Courthouse | El Paso, TX

7 p.m. | Focus Talk | El Paso Museum of Art | El Paso, TX

Oct. 9

10 a.m. | Architectural Tour W.S. Hills Building: Tom Lea’s Artist Studio Tour by Dr. Max Grossman | W.S. Hills Building | El Paso, TC

12 p.m. | Is it worth it? Case Studies for Preserving Historic Buildings in Communities by  J.P. Bryan | Anson Mills

Oct. 11

1 p.m. | Screening of Tom Lea’s El Paso | El Paso Public Library, Main Branch | El Paso, TX

2 p.m. | Screening of Luciano Cheles on the Tom Lea Trail | El Paso Public Library, Main Branch | El Paso, TX

Oct. 13

6 p.m. | Tom Lea’s Horses by Dr. Melissa Warak | Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center, UTEP

Oct. 15

12 p.m. | Tom Lea: Chronicler of 20th Century America Grand Opening and Presentation by Adair Margo | The Bullock Texas State History Museum | Austin, TX

6 p.m. | Tom Lea: Chronicler of 20th Century America Opening Reception | The Bullock Texas State

History Museum | Austin, TX

7 p.m. | Focus Talk | El Paso Museum of Art | El Paso, TX

Oct. 16

10 a.m. | Antonio Balderas Bullring Tour in Juárez by Cuauhtémoc Monreal | El Pasoans meet at 9 a.m. in Camino Real Hotel | El Paso, TX

7 p.m. | Tom Lea and the First Surgery in North America by Dr. Rubén Garrido | Hospital Ángeles | Ciudad Juárez

Oct. 17, 2015 – Jan. 16, 2016

Tom Lea, LIFE and World War II | The National Museum of the Pacific War | Fredericksburg, TX

Oct. 17   

9 a.m. | Grand Opening and Conference Tom Lea, LIFE and World War II |The National Museum of the Pacific War | Fredericksburg, TX

10 a.m. | The Story Behind The Turning Point by William Stevens | Larry K. Durham Sports Center | UTEP

9 a.m. – 5 p.m. | Mata Ortiz Pottery EXPO | Ardovino’s Desert Crossing | Sunland Park, NM

Oct. 18

1 p.m. | Screening of The Brave Bulls | El Paso Public Library, Main Branch | El Paso, TX

3 p.m. | Screening of Tom Lea’s An Awkward First Date Written and produced by Holly Cobb, directed by Derek Packard. A KSCE  ch.38 production | El Paso Public Library, Main Branch | El Paso, TX

9 a.m. – 5 p.m. | Mata Ortiz Pottery EXPO | Ardovino’s Desert Crossing | Sunland Park, NM

Oct. 19

3 p.m. | Downtown El Paso Educational Mural Tour by Stephanie Bulloch | Historic Federal Courthouse | El Paso, TX

Oct. 20

10 a.m. | Benito Juárez by Profra. Imelda Vega Miranda (El Pasoans meet at 9 a.m. at Camino Real Hotel | El Paso, TX) | Presentation at Old Historic City Hall, Ciudad Juárez

Oct. 21

12 p.m. | Thoracic Trauma:  Five Centuries of Progress (Cabeza de Vaca to Present) by Dr. Alan Tyroch | Medical Education Building, Texas Tech University Health Sciences | El Paso, TX

1 p.m. | Pass of the North Mural | Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing | Texas Tech University Health Sciences | El Paso, TX

Oct. 22

1 p.m. | Tom Lea in Las Cruces by Jamie Jones | Branigan Cultural Center | New Mexico State University | Las Cruces, NM

6 p.m. | Comanches, Seymour and Tom Lea – The Europeans are Coming! by Adair Margo | Whiteside Auditorium for the Performing Arts | Seymour, TX

7 p.m. | Focus Talk | El Paso Museum of Art | El Paso, TX

Oct. 23

11:30 a.m. | Bullfighting in the Southwest by Dr. Frank “Cinco” Feuille | El Paso Club | El Paso, TX

5 p.m. | Architectural Tour Tom Lea & San Jacinto Plaza,  El Paso’s Identifying Center: Changing Architecture, Controversies, and History by Ken Gorski | El Paso Public Library, Main Branch | El Paso, TX

 6:30 p.m. | Making History:  Stampede, Odessa and Tom Lea by Adair Margo | Ellen Noel Museum of the Permian Basin Rodman Auditorium | Odessa, TX

Oct. 24

9 a.m. |The Hands of Cantú: Horsemanship at the Pass of the North | Compadres Therapy, Inc. | El Paso, TX

Oct. 25

1 p.m. | Screening of Mexican Revolution Sites in El Paso: A Walking Tour with Leon Metz and Fred Morales | El Paso Public Library, Main Branch | El Paso, TX

Oct. 27

9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. | Downtown Juárez Walking Tour with Dr. Tomás Cuevas (El Pasoans meet at 9 a.m. at Camino Real Hotel, El Paso, TX)

4 p.m. | Downtown El Paso Mural Tour Experience the Pass of the North hosted by first lady of El Paso, Lisa Leeser and led by Carolina Franco and Elisa Garrido | Historic Federal Courthouse | El Paso, TX

6 p.m. | Art and Design; Comparisons and Contrasts by Louis Ocepek | Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center | UTEP

Oct. 29

Sunrise to 10 p.m. | MADE IN EL PASO | Downtown El Paso, TX