Tulsa May Become Home to Spectacular Peter Hurd Mural
By NANCY K. OWENS
SOUTHWESTERN ART: This Peter Hurd mural, located in the one-time Prudential Life Insurance Company building in Houston, will be removed when the property is torn down for expansion of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Interest is on the rise for the mural to be moved to Tulsa.
HURD – La Rinconada Gallery
There is no better-preserved example of Southwestern frontier culture than Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is according to Gary Lee, travel writer, Washington Post, in a travel article about Tulsa that appeared in the Post’s Sunday, April 2 edition.
In addition to the written word, another way of communicating the glory years of the Southwestern frontier culture that is, in Lee’s opinion, best represented by Tulsa, is through art. This is exactly what famed artist Peter Hurd (1904-1984) accomplished in 1952.
Prudential Life Insurance Company commissioned Hurd to paint a mural evoking its corporate motto: “The Future Belongs To Those Who Prepare For It.” Hurd painted a visually stunning 15’x47’ mural for the Prudential headquarters in Houston. According to Hurd’s son, artist Michael Hurd, “The mural is a great romantic tribute that reflects my father’s love of the Southwest, its people and culture. It’s a strong echo of the work that he and other regionalist painters created under government sponsorship during the 1930’s.” He adds, “To my knowledge it is the only, perhaps the largest, mural by Peter Hurd to ever be made available on the market.”
“Made available on the market?” Yes. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has purchased the Prudential Life building in Houston. Due to the building’s settling foundation and other issues, Anderson plans to raze the building and construct a new medical facility. The spectacular mural needs a new home and Tulsa might be the perfect place for it if a local new owner can be found.
Through an arrangement with Hurd-La Rinconada Gallery, the agent responsible for finding a new home for the mural, M.D. Anderson has agreed to donate the mural to the future owner. According to Hurd, “M.D. Anderson is not requiring payment for the mural, but must approve the specifics of any removal plan submitted to them. In lieu of a purchase cost, the acquiring party will be responsible for the transportation cost of the mural and installation (or storage) costs.” A gallery fee will be paid to the Hurd-La Rinconada Gallery in for its role in arranging transfer of the mural.
Based on Hurd’s conversation with an art appraiser and conservation experts, the mural is conservatively valued at twice the removal and installation costs.
Various representatives of the local art, business and civic communities have expressed an interest in studying the feasibility of moving the mural to Tulsa. The mural would be a tourist attraction for the city, and could be located in a museum such as Gilcrease or in the newly configured Tulsa Convention Center.
The Prudential Life mural is not the only one Hurd painted in his lifetime. He painted a fresco mural in 1953-54 for Texas Tech University in Lubbock. The 1,300 square foot mural is displayed on the walls of Holden Hall. It depicts the life of the South Plains from 1890-1925, the year Texas Tech opened its doors. The fresco medium Hurd used for the Texas Tech mural is one of the most difficult but enduring art forms.
About Peter Hurd
Peter Hurd was born in Roswell, New Mexico. He originally intended to pursue a military career and enrolled at West Point in 1921. Hurd spent two years at West Point before deciding to pursue his real passion, painting. In 1923, after resigning from West Point, he enrolled at Haverford College in Pennsylvania.
Hurd had profound respect for the work of Newell Convers (N.C.) Wyeth. Through persistence, he was able to arrange a meeting with Wyeth at his home in Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania. The meeting went well. Subsequently, Hurd moved to Chadd’s Ford, where he became a student of the renowned illustrator.
Hurd later commented that “West Point was tough on its students, but N. C. Wyeth was tougher.” For the next ten years, until 1933, Hurd studied and painted under Wyeth’s expert guidance.
The energetic and handsome Hurd, in his ubiquitous cowboy boots and hat, made a strong impression on the Wyeths. However, he impressed one of the Wyeths most of all, N.C.’s eldest daughter Henriette. They married in 1929. In 1933, the Hurd couple returned to New Mexico where they settled on a ranch in San Patricio, in the Hondo Valley. They raised two sons and a daughter, and continued to paint. Henriette would go on to achieve renown for her portraits and still-life paintings.
Hurd is best known for his watercolors, luminous egg temperas and lithographs of the New Mexico landscape he loved so much. He was an influential pioneer of the U.S. of the Italian renaissance medium of egg tempera.
Hurd worked as a war correspondent for Life Magazine during World War II. He was stationed with the Eighth Air Force in England. After the war he continued with his painting on a full-time basis, including portraits. One of his many famous portraits is of President Lyndon Johnson. In 1967, Hurd was commissioned to paint President Johnson’s official White House portrait. President Johnson allowed Hurd only one sitting, during which the President fell asleep. Hurd finished the painting using photographs of Johnson. Johnson, upon seeing the finished portrait, declared it “the ugliest thing I ever saw.” The painting is now part of the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, in the Smithsonian Institution.
Hurd’s work is also represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; Brooklyn Museum; Roswell Museum; Museum of New Mexico; William Rockhill Nelson Galleries; The Museum, Texas Tech University; and the National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.
A website of interest is www.wyethartists.com.