Peter Hurd- Recollections of a Friend

Peter Hurd- Self Portait

Peter Hurd- Self Portait at the Roswell Museum and Art Center
Peter Hurd- Self Portait at the Roswell Museum and Art Center

Modern American Painting

This is the book that my father bought with a weeks wages to see what Peter Hurd's art was like.
This is the book that my father bought with a weeks wages to see what Peter Hurd's art was like.
Pages with some of Hurd's artwork. The page on the right and the cowboy to the left are by Peter Hurd.
Pages with some of Hurd's artwork. The page on the right and the cowboy to the left are by Peter Hurd.

How it all started.

 

My father always has cherished art. He collects it, he designs it, and he produces it. I remember, even when I was very young, my father covering the dining room table with a huge cardboard poster that he would turn into the officers’ club calendar, richly illustrated with small figures that represented the doings for that day.

When my father was young, delivering newspapers in Roswell, New Mexico, one of his customers, if you will, was a nationally renowned artist by the name of Peter Hurd. The idea that a famous artist lived on his route fascinated my father and he tried to learn all he could about him. He spent a week’s wages on a book that featured  some of the art of Hurd entitled Modern American Painting. He still owns that book today.

In 1929, Peter married into the Wyeth family of nationally famous authors when he married Henriette Wyeth, also a remarkable artist. Among her credits are still-lifes and portraits including portraits of Helen Hays, the actress, and First Lady Pat Nixon.

Hondo Valley Gold.

 

Fast forward to the 1960s when my mother and father met and became friends with Peter while he was living on his ranch at San Patricio in the Hondo Valley of Southeastern New Mexico. You can read about Peter all over the internet so I wanted to write about those personal experiences that no one is aware of.

Peter Hurd loved the Hondo Valley landscape and used it as a background for much of his art. One day my parents had driven up to the ranch to visit. During the course of the visit, Peter suddenly announced that he had discovered gold on his property.  He told my mom and dad to hop into his pickup and he would prove it to them.  Out they went to the old red pickup for a trip across the ranch. The old red pickup, by the way, is the same one in his painting “The Red Pickup”. They drove to a high point above the Hondo River as the sun began to set. Peter hesitated as if trying to remember where the gold was. Then he announced “There it is!” My parents looked down in the direction he was pointing just as the setting sun turned the river into a ribbon of gold winding through the valley. That was Peter Hurd’s gold.

Peter loved to collect things also, aside from art. He had a collection of officers’ military swords set in a fan shape above his massive fireplace at the ranch. On seeing the display my dad told him about the sword that he had found in Europe.  Back in the 50s when my family was stationed in France, we went to the World War 1 site of Verdun. Among the places that we visited was an area called the “Bayonet Trench” where about a dozen bayonets were discovered in a row projecting from the ground. A German Howitzer round had exploded by the trench in which French soldiers had stacked their rifles against the rampart waiting for the charge. The dirt from the crater buried the soldiers beneath each bayonet. They were reburied as they were found.

While exploring the area of the battle, my father stepped on something sharp. He looked down to see what was there and saw a piece of metal poking out of the ground. Thinking someone else might get hurt on it, he pulled it up. It turned out to be a military sword dropped at some time during the battle. He brought the sword home to the U.S, for his collection. When Peter heard about the sword, he had to see it. Once he saw it, he asked my dad if there was any way he would part with it. Dad gave the sword to Peter who proudly displayed it in his sword collection.

The Red Pickup

Hondo Valley Landscape from the Roswell Museum and Art Center collection
Hondo Valley Landscape from the Roswell Museum and Art Center collection
"The Red Pickup" is the same one my parents rode in to Peter Hurd's gold.
"The Red Pickup" is the same one my parents rode in to Peter Hurd's gold.

The Oasis

"The Oasis" by Peter Hurd courtesy of the Roswell Museum and Art Center
"The Oasis" by Peter Hurd courtesy of the Roswell Museum and Art Center
"The Oasis" by K. Gunner Peterson met Peter Hurd's approval.
"The Oasis" by K. Gunner Peterson met Peter Hurd's approval.

The Oasis- then and now

 

One of Peter Hurd’s most popular paintings  called “The Oasis” shows a young boy getting ready to jump into Stock tank by a windmill for a little skinny dipping episode on a hot New Mexico day. Another artist friend of my father’s named  K. Gunnar Peterson enjoyed the windmill painting so much that he decided to do an update of it with the same windmill in the background and a little more modern skinny dipping episode with a cowboy and a young woman. Dad wasn’t sure how Pete would like it but showed it to him anyway. He was met with total approval. Peter loved the new version. 

The Bugler

 

Being a close friend of Pete’s, my dad has collected some more personal momentos of that friendship. One pen and ink sketch shows a young Peter Hurd marching with a bugle during his time at New Mexico Military Institute, which he attended from 1918 to 1921. The pen and ink was done at Peter’s studio while he told dad about his experiences at NMMI as the bugler. He went over and picked up a piece of watercolor paper and started to tear it up. Dad started to protest saying that there was a picture on the other side. The watercolor was of Robert O. Anderson, a prominent Roswell oil man, during a bird hunting trip. Peter showed dad a flaw, which he circled, in the paper. He then tore the painting into smaller pieces and penned the bugler drawing. My father framed it so that both sides can be seen.  

While in a particularly playful mood, one day, Peter told my dad that he had another picture he wanted to paint him. He took a copy of one of his prints called “The Sheep Herder” and added a touch of naughtiness to it, renaming it  ‘Poncho’s Dream”. It gives you a pretty good idea of his sense of humor.

Peter Hurd Originals

Peter Hurd as a bugler at New Mexico Military Institute
Peter Hurd as a bugler at New Mexico Military Institute
Reverse of the bugler shows Robert O. Anderson hunting. Note where Peter circled the flaw in the paper as a reason for tearing it up.
Reverse of the bugler shows Robert O. Anderson hunting. Note where Peter circled the flaw in the paper as a reason for tearing it up.
"The Sheepherder" renamed "Pancho's Dream."
"The Sheepherder" renamed "Pancho's Dream."
The official portrait now in the Smithsonian.
The official portrait now in the Smithsonian.
After the flap!
After the flap!

President Lyndon Johnson

 

In 1967, Peter was commissioned to paint the official presidential portrait of President Lyndon Johnson. He was only allowed one sitting during which President Johnson fell asleep. He was forced to finish the portrait from photos of the President. Upon presenting the portrait, President Johnson pronounced it the “Ugliest thing I ever saw.” It is now hanging at the Smithsonian Institute. My father has the unofficial version done by Pete while he was letting my dad know his opinion of President Johnson with the words, “Here’s something to remember me by. Me an’ ol’ Mewl  ears. This is the ugliest thing I ever saw.”

The Straggler

 

As is too often true, disease robbed us of a great talent. During later years, Peter Hurd developed Alzheimer’s disease and was admitted to a nursing home in Roswell. The disease robbed him of almost all memory. Dad remembers the last time he and mom visited. Pete looked at my father and let him know that he didn’t know who he was and further, didn’t like him. He never forgot my mother though. That was the last time my parents saw this great artist. Peter Hurd died on July 9th in 1984 at the nursing home in Roswell.

After his death, and knowing that my father was a pilot in the air force, my father was offered a large painting from the estate at a much reduced cost. The painting was called “The Straggler” and featured a B-17 bomber with smoke coming from one crippled engine returning from a bombing run to England. The painting was the last in a series for Life Magazine. It has some damage from age and humidity so my father sold it to the Military Museum at New Mexico Military Institute as a centerpiece. A life size copy was made and is displayed so that the original can be stored under controlled conditions to stop the deterioration.

The rest of the pieces have been placed in museums for safekeeping and may someday be put on display for the public. Meanwhile, you see them first here.

If you visit Roswell, skip the UFO museum for once if you are short on time and visit the Roswell Museum and Art Center on North Main, They have a permanent collection of the paintings of Peter Hurd and his wife Henriette Wyeth along with their son Micheal Hurd’s paintings. You will enjoy it.

Enjoy your Treasured Pasts.

Stuart

Roswell Museum and Art Center
Roswell Museum and Art Center
Sallyport at New Mexico Military Institute
Sallyport at New Mexico Military Institute

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Comments 24 comments

Jerry Busch 2 months ago

My dad, the late author Niven Busch, was a friend of Peter Hurd's and purchased one or two paintings and numerous prints. I inherited one painting, a landscape of a car turning into a yard and a truck raising dust in the distance. In its center, the painting appears to have a cryptograph of Jesus. In the image of the Red Pickup above, the hand of God appears in the sky, but I do not see this in other reproductions. I am curious about that ...


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Treasured Pasts 6 years ago from Commerce, Texas Author

Sallymargaret

Great news. This article has been very popular which just goes to reaffirm his popularity.

Stuart


sallymargaret 6 years ago

I just read that the Peter Hurd mural, "The Future Belongs to Those who Prepare For It", is being moved to the Library in Artesia, New Mexico. I am very glad to hear that someone is saving the mural, and I think Artesia, New Mexico is an appropriate place for it, since it is so close to San Patricio, Peter Hurd's old home!


Treasured Pasts profile image

Treasured Pasts 6 years ago from Commerce, Texas Author

I would love to see the newsletter and I hope Michael enjoys the article. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Tiffanie Owen 6 years ago

I am the Director at the Hurd-La Rinconada Gallery in San Patricio and really enjoyed reading family's recollections of Peter Hurd. I never cease to be amazed at the quantity of art and stories that continue to unfold from this talented man. We have a monthly, online-newsletter (that I think you might enjoy) and our most popular feature is called the "Sentinel Ranch Windy." According to Michael, his father, Peter Hurd, used to refer to his stories as "windys." A lot of your father's recollections reminded me of our "windys." That man was such a character. Thank you for sharing. I will be sure to show this to Michael, I think he will enjoy it too.


Betsy Cowan 6 years ago

Eric Knight, author of the beloved novel, Lassie Come Home was one of my Peter Hurd's best friends in the 1930s. He helped Peter fix up El Sentinel ranch for his family to move into. Hurd's portrait of Eric is also in the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. Please visit my web page for information about Eric Knight.


Treasured Pasts profile image

Treasured Pasts 6 years ago from Commerce, Texas Author

Sallymargaret

That would be a true shame. Hopefully someone or some museum or university steps up. I'll let my dad know about it since he would be interested to hear. No resources to help but Pete was still a friend.


Sallymaargaret 6 years ago

Have you heard any news about the Peter Hurd Mural that may be destroyed? Here is the description:

A fresco, titled "The Future Belongs To Those Who Prepare For It," is located in the Prudential Building. The fresco, 16 feet (4.9 m) by 47 feet (14 m), depicts life on a farm in West Texas.[4] The Prudential Life Insurance Company commissioned the mural from the artist Peter Hurd.

For 56 years, visitors to the building at 1100 Holcombe have been greeted by the mural's colorful array of galloping horses, mounds of produce and hard-working farm folk bursting with good health. For five years, a New Mexico gallery owned by the artist's son desperately — but unsuccessfully — has looked for someone to save the painting.

The painting is free. But the cost of removing it from the curved wall in the building's foyer, restoring it and installing it elsewhere likely would exceed $500,000.

"We are working with several universities and private individuals," said Ann Hale, director of the Hurd La Rinconada Gallery in San Patricio, N.M., "but so far there are no real solid prospects. People do want the mural. They'd be delighted to have it, but they would have to take on the responsibility of moving it. ... We have until about this August to find a new home for it."

Hale placed the mural's value at more than $3 million.


Treasured Pasts profile image

Treasured Pasts 6 years ago from Commerce, Texas Author

Ron

I also found this on the internet which confirms the subject matter of your picture.

In the mid-1930s, Hurd was a mural painter, completing post-office murals in Big Springs and Dallas, Texas, and in Alamogordo, New Mexico. His paintings invoked clear images of his subject. Of one of his works, a critic stated, “An impeccable craftsmanship modeled the flanks of New Mexico hills and drew the cowboys raising dust in rodeos under a glittering June sky.” Soon Hurd was nationally recognized from a feature article done of the artist and his work in Life magazine.


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Treasured Pasts 6 years ago from Commerce, Texas Author

Ron

I highly recommend that you contact the Roswell Museum about your painting. They have an extensive collection of his work and have had for many years. They may prove very useful in getting you some information about your painting.

It sounds very exciting and I hope they can confirm your opinion. If so, it could be a very valuable find.

Stuart


ron mikula 6 years ago

I recently saw a framed painting under glass at a local thrift shop here in Reno, NV I jotted down the artist's name (PETER HURD) and put it in my wallet and today 5/12/2010 I found time to research the artist I became very interrested in all the information about him and his beautiful art works. Now even more so because now I possess the painting as of today. It's a watercolor 14"x18" depicting a rodeo cowboy on a bucking bull holding on for dare life. Trees street lights bleachers with people night sky ect.. In looking at his other works it just screams PETER HURD I have to do further research though because the signing of this piece is (PETER HURD, NA) in researching the signing, I believe the NA IS "NATIONAL ARTIST" or something like that. The signing also tends to make me believe that it may be an early piece because the name is hand printed and doesn't have the flair of the signature at the start and end. I did see in his bio. that he began focusing mostly on water color painting in 1960 which seems to indicate that prehaps some water color painting were done before the sixties and the early signature was improved upon and flair was added. Any further info. about this is welcome. you may also contact me at

a-verdi-man@att.net thanks for reading this. Ron


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nikki1 6 years ago

Awesome artwork and photos. Very informative.


Patty M. 6 years ago

My stepfather is from Tyler Texas. When he and my mother got together, he had told the story of an Aunt of his. When he was a boy, his Aunt did housekeeping in an upscale Hotel. I am not sure where, but somewhere in Texas. President Johnson was a guest at the time and he was doing a sitting for a portrait. Long story short, a very large painting was found in the hotel garbage. This portrait was of Johnson and the rumor was that he or his wife hated the painting and ordered it be trashed. To this day, my stepfather and mother have this painting in their home. It may or may not be valuable but our family loves it. The portait stands about 4-41/2 feet tall by at least 3 feet wide. Its kind of neat to think he may have actually sat for this portrait. I have not seen the back of beneath the frame so I'm not sure who the artist was.


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Treasured Pasts 6 years ago from Commerce, Texas Author

SallyMargaret

Its only a shame if you never do it. I wrote a book (reference) when I was 52 because I wanted to. Found I liked to write. I love to speak to groups and challenge their minds about traditional archeaology. When we stop dreaming, why bother with life.


Sallymargaret 6 years ago

Wow! I didn't expect to hear from you and sent another comment before I got yours! Thank you so much! I have had a rewarding life, but, unfortunately, art has not been a part of it. When I retire in three years, I plan to take art lessons again and fulfill my longings! Conny Martin, who taught Glenna Goodacre, her best known student, considered me her best student at the time she was teaching me (that was after Glenna Goodacre had gone off to school--I don't think I could have compared with her.) Conny always told me I could have been a wonderful artist, and I intend to when I can finally retire! Meanwhile, my artistic longings go toward decorating my house!

Thanks again for your comments! Say hello to your father!


Sallymargaret 6 years ago

Just an additional comment. When I met Peter Hurd and Henriette Wyeth, I didn't realize at the time that her father was N.C. Wyeth, who attended the famous Brandywine School and studied art under Howard Pyle. Pyle's other students included Jessie Wilcox Smith, Maxfield Parrish, Frank Schoonover and Olive Rush. What a legacy! I feel a part of that legacy!


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Treasured Pasts 6 years ago from Commerce, Texas Author

SallyMargaret

My father will be so pleased when I pass on your comments. He wondered whether people would be interested in his stories and response has certainly been positive. I continue to pick my dad's mind for more stories. Again thanks for the comments. It sounds like you, too, have had a very interesting and rewarding life. Art has such a way of filling in the drab colors of the everyday chores we have to perform.


Sallymargaret 6 years ago

I met Peter Hurd and his wife Henriette Wyeth in 1961 when I was 14 years old. My mother took me to El Paso to have my portrait painted by Manuel Acosta. Mr. Acosta, who usually painted Hispanic subjects, found painting me a challenge because I am very fair complexioned. When he finished the portrait, he was so pleased with the way he had captured my skin tones that he called Peter Hurd and told him that he was sending us to Sentinel Ranch so Mr. Hurd could look at my portrait. The two artists, Peter Hurd and Henriette Wyeth, greeted us warmly and showed us their house. I was most impressed with the area at the back of the house where they did their paintings, and with the "gurgling brook" behind their house. Both had paintings they were working on, which I got to see. I will never forget meeting them, and the warmth they conveyed to me.

I grew up in Lubbock and spent much of my time in the rotunda at the Texas Tech Museum when my mother was teaching classes. I knew some of the people who were painted on the fresco of the rotunda--Dr. Overton was my pediatrician. As you probably know, Peter Hurd did the fresco, and Manuel Acosta was one of his assistants. Conny Martin of Lubbock is a dear friend of mine, and I took art lessons from her when I was 10, 11 and 12.

I really enjoyed reading about your memories. "The Red Pickup" was always one of my favorite paintings. I was also tickled to see the caricature of Lyndon Johnson, "This IS the ugliest thing I ever saw." I was so angry when Lyndon Johnson said that to Peter Hurd. The portrait looks EXACTLY like Lyndon Johnson, and it's especially good when one realizes that Mr. Johnson would not cooperate for the sitting.

Thank you again for a wonderful story!


sosoibrahim2 7 years ago

Hello


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janetelich 7 years ago

Thank you for sharing this story. My mother made us take an extensive detour just to stop by the Roswell Museum. I was moved by both Peter's and Henriette's paintings. Your page brought back some wonderful memories.


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Treasured Pasts 7 years ago from Commerce, Texas Author

Thanks for the comments. It was great fun to sit with my dad and have him tell his stories. I appreciate all your comments.


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Rose West 7 years ago from Michigan

This was such a fascinating hub! I really enjoyed reading it. I didn't know that about Henriette Wyeth marrying Peter Hurd. Thanks for the great read!


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fastfreta 7 years ago from Southern California

Treasured Pasts, I truly enjoyed this. I could not stop reading until I finished I never heard of Peter Hurd, not that I'm not an art collector, nor do I know anything about art. I am going to look into his history. I love his artwork. Thank you for sharing your personal experience.


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Candie V 7 years ago from Wherever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

Fantastic! These bits are always better when there is a personal story involved! Great hub!

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