An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
Tom Lea, artist and writer, was born in El Paso, Texas on July 11, 1907. After displaying a natural aptitude for painting and drawing as a child, Lea received formal training at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1924 to 1926 and as apprentice and assistant to the Chicago muralist John Norton from 1927 to 1932. In 1930, Lea traveled to Italy to study the techniques of Renaissance wall painting. One of his early murals "The Nesters," painted in the Post Office Department Building in Washington, D. C., won a national competition in 1935. There followed a commission to paint the mural, "Pass of the North," in the United States Court House in El Paso. J. Frank Dobie commissioned Lea to illustrate two of his books from this period, Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver (1939) and The Longhorns (1940). During World War II, Life magazine hired Lea as a combination war correspondent-artist to cover the war in the Pacific.
Lea's experiences during the war supplied him with ample material as a writer, leading to the publication of A Grizzly from the Coral Sea (1944) and Peleliu Landing (1945). Lea's lifelong friend Carl Hertzog, a book designer, printed both books as well as Lea's Bullfight Manual for Spectators (1949). After the war, Lea began to write fiction, including The Brave Bulls (1949), The Wonderful Country (1952), The Primal Yoke (1960), and The Hands of Cantú (1964). The Brave Bulls won the Carr P. Collins Award of the Texas Institute of Letters for best book by a Texan, and The Hands of Cantú won the Texas Institute's Jesse Jones Award for the best work of fiction by a Texan. Both The Brave Bulls and The Wonderful Country were produced as motion pictures. Lea continued to write non-fiction, including the two-volume The King Ranch (1957), A Picture Gallery (1968), and an account of King Ranch operations in Australia, In the Crucible of the Sun (1974).
As an artist, Lea was commissioned by Life magazine in 1946 to paint a series of canvases depicting Western cattle, which Life presented to the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. In 1953, the University of Texas Press published Tom Lea: a Portfolio of Six Paintings with an Introduction by J. Frank Dobie. Lea's first large exhibition was mounted in 1961 at the Fort Worth Art Center. Lea has also had exhibitions at the El Paso Museum of Art and the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio.
Tom Lea died in 2001 in El Paso.
The Tom Lea Collection consists of typescript and holograph manuscripts, printed books and pamphlets, prospectuses, photographs, galleys, page proofs, pasteups, mockups, layouts, drawings, transparencies, dust jackets, postcards, correspondence, printed advertisements, invitations, clippings, newspapers, programs, tickets, and a menu. The collection is arranged in two series: I. Fiction (1927-1964, bulk 1949-1964; 2 boxes), and II. Non-Fiction (1889-1974, bulk 1937-1974; 3 boxes). The materials are arranged alphabetically by title within each series.
The Fiction series includes material relating to The Brave Bulls, The Hands of Cantú, The Primal Yoke, and The Wonderful Country. The Brave Bulls includes typed and holograph notes and a typed and holograph biography of the fictional bullfighter Luis Bello Garcia. The bulk consists of background material, including typescripts of Spanish-language bullfighting articles, a typescript titled "The Land of Gold," a guidebook, a typescript article and notes on the Spanish bullfighter Manolete, photographs and other images of bullfighters, a photograph and other images of the Virgin Mary, correspondence, a pamphlet titled "Cantares Flamencos," programs, tickets, advertisements, and invitations. The Hands of Cantú material consists of notes, a drawing, galleys, a typescript printer's copy, incomplete page proofs, a pasteup and proof of the dust jacket, and correspondence. The Primal Yoke material includes galleys, a page proof, proofs and pasteups of chapter headings, and a mockup of the dust jacket. The Wonderful Country is represented by notes, a point outline by Bob Parrish, a story outline, shot sequences, a typescript of the screenplay by Maurice Zimm, typescripts of the screenplay by Tom Lea, correspondence, and a map drawn by Tom Lea.
The Non-Fiction series includes material relating to the Bullfight Manual for Spectators, the Calendar of Twelve Travelers through the Pass of the North, the Exhibition of Preliminary Drawings for a Mural in the Lobby of the United States Court House, El Paso, Texas by Tom Lea, In the Crucible of the Sun, The King Ranch, Peleliu Landing, A Picture Gallery, and Westward Bound: a Hundred Years Ago. The material for the Bullfight Manual includes a pasteup, page proofs, a proof copy, and both small and large format printed copies. The Calendar includes a printed sheet, a holograph draft of "El Paso del Norte," a typescript, a page proof, a proof of the illustration "Don Diego de Vargas, the Warrior," and a menu. The Exhibition of Preliminary Drawings includes the exhibition catalog and correspondence. For In the Crucible of the Sun, there are a corrected typescript, typescript photocopies, typescript captions for the illustrations, two layouts, page proofs, an unbound proof copy, a sketchbook, photographic transparencies, an illustration layout, proofs of illustrations, and correspondence. The King Ranch includes a typescript with chapters 1 and 2 in page proof, instructions to the printer, typed footnotes, incomplete page proofs, a prospectus, and correspondence. The Peleliu Landing material consists of two notebooks, U. S. Navy and U. S. S. Ormsby documents, typescripts of a poem and songs written by marines and sailors, photocopies of drawings, photographic negatives, Japanese postcards, military identification cards, an aerial photograph of Peleliu, and correspondence. A Picture Gallery consists of lists of illustrations for Life and the Saturday Evening Post, laid in a binding. Westward Bound is represented by page proofs and correspondence. In addition, there is a proof copy of a program titled "Fort Bliss One-hundredth Anniversary 1848-1948"with pageant and parade instructions and correspondence; a typescript essay, "Homer Lea," as well as clippings; a typescript titled "A Report from the Advisory Commission on Church Art and Ornamentation [by the] Diocese of New Mexico and Southwest Texas" and correspondence; a leaflet titled "Art and Religion: a Symposium on the New Encounter"; and a pamphlet titled "Stained Glass Designs of McKee Chapel in the Church of Saint Clement," including a program from the church, drawings of the window designs, and a pasteup for the pamphlet.
The correspondence is primarily professional in nature, concerning textual suggestions from colleagues and details of publication. The correspondence from Carl Hertzog touches on the design and production of the books on which he and Lea collaborated. The correspondence from Robert Parrish suggests improvements to the screenplay The Wonderful Country.
Open for research
Ken Craven, 1995; Robert Kendrick, 1996
Tom Lea Collection--Folder List