Travel the Tom Lea Trail

Connecting the regional histories of 19 communities in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico.

(click on each city to see a description of places of interest)

Traveling the Tom Lea Trail allows visitors to discover little-known places in Texas,
New Mexico, and Chihuahua through
Tom Lea’s art and writing & connects the regional histories of 11 Texas cities through Tom Lea’s art.

things to see on the 

Tom Lea Trail

 

texas

SEYMOUR

Seymour Post Office

210 N Washington Street Seymour, TX 76380

Leslie Stacey, Director of Seymour Chamber of Commerce | lesliemstacey@icloud.com

Tom Lea’s interest in Indian cultures is evident in his 1942 mural, Comanches, which commemorates the great mounted warriors of the North Texas region. It was painted under the Section of Fine Arts, Treasury Department during the New Deal.

 

EL PASO

R.E. Thomason Federal Building and Courthouse

511 E San Antonio Avenue, El Paso, TX 79901

Arguably Lea’s greatest mural, Pass of the North, 1938, commemorates the archetypal giants of the borderland region, including the Apache, Spaniard, Mexican and Anglo.

El Paso Museum of Art

1 Arts Festival Plaza, El Paso, TX 79901

Victoria Ramirez, Director | RamirezVL3@elpasotexas.gov  |  epma.art

When El Paso’s new museum of art opened in 1997, its spacious upstairs gallery was named for Tom Lea. Friends and family gave paintings, making the El Paso Museum of Art a major repository of his work. Paintings rotate and are exhibited with other artists from the Southwest.  

El Paso Museum of History

510 N Santa Fe Street, El Paso, TX 79901

Vladimir Von Tsurikov, Director | VonTsurikovVA@elpasotexas.gov  |  history.elpasotexas.gov

The El Paso Museum of History has one of the world’s largest 3-D digital walls, which allows participants to call up photographs and videos that explore El Paso’s history and people. The museum also owns Lea’s 1981 drawing of The Arrival of the First Train in El Paso, 1881. Engine No. 1 that served as Lea’s model is housed on Overland Street only a few blocks away. Lea’s Southwest mural is temporarily relocated at the history museum from the public library next door.   

Tom Lea’s Southwest mural – painted in 1956 as a gift to the citizens of El Paso for their new library – was relocated to the west entrance from a southwest reading room. His XII Travelers, which inspired John Houser’s Fray Garcia de San Francisco sculpture in Pioneer Plaza a few blocks away, are displayed in the borderlands section. An owl relief on the Oregon St. exterior of the building has a honeybee on the branch, a nod to John Burroughs quote “I go to books and to nature as a bee goes to a flower, for a nectar that I can make into my own honey.”

University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) Centennial Museum

500 University Avenue, El Paso, TX 79968

Daniel Carey Whalen, Director | djcareywhalen@utep.edu

The stunning UTEP campus is in the architectural style of the Kingdom of Bhutan; its Centennial Museum is the oldest museum in El Paso. The lintel over the door was designed by Tom Lea and depicts the story of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions – Castillo, Dorantes, and the Moorish slave Estèban – who were the first white men to cross the North American continent. They were welcomed as healers by friendly tribes who helped guide them.   

UTEP Larry Durham Center

2824 Sun Bowl Drive, El Paso, TX 79968

Daniel Carey Whalen, Director | djcareywhalen@utep.edu

Tom Lea was asked to paint a famous 1956 football game in which Texas Western (now University of Texas at El Paso) beat the University of Utah at Salt Lake City in the final seconds of the game. The painting is called The Turning Point because the game changed the course of the football season. Drawings for the painting hang in the Brumbelow Building on campus nearby.

 

UTEP Library

1900 Wiggins Way, El Paso, TX 79968

Robert Stakes, Director | rlstakes@utep.edu

Claudia Rivers, Special Collections | crivers@utep.edu

When the UTEP library was constructed, Tom Lea was commissioned to do a painting for the new building. He chose the subject of the Anglo settler Who Came to Stay on the Texas side of the Rio Grande. The painting is on the second floor. A series of Riders through the Centuries by Lea’s friend Jose Cisneros is on the third. The library is filled with regional art to enjoy, and Special Collections on the sixth floor has Lea books, letters and archives as well as a room named for Carl Hertzog – the renowned book designer and Lea collaborator.

International Museum of Art

1211 Montana Avenue, El Paso, TX 79902

Mitzi Quirarte, Director | 915-543-6747

Over the door on the Brown Street side of the old El Paso Museum of Art (now renamed the International Museum of Art), Tom Lea’s design Pasaron por Aqui is impressed in the concrete lintel. The cultures that once travelled through the El Paso del Norte region are commemorated through their hats and headdresses.

Paul L. Foster School of Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso

4801 Alberta Avenue, 3rd Floor, El Paso, TX 79905

Gabrielle Dunkerton, Recruiter | Gabrielle.dunkerton@ttuhsc.edu

The Texas Tech University Health S ciencesCenter (TTUHSC) El Paso is the only health sciences center on the U.S.-Mexico border. The medical school’s simulation lab in the Education Center has the original drawing for Tom Lea’s First Recorded Surgical Operation in North America, Cabeza de Vaca Taking an Arrow from an Indian’s chest in 1535. (The finished painting is at UT Medical Branch Galveston).

Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing

210 Rick Francis Street, El Paso, TX 79905

Large reproductions of Tom Lea’s 1938 Pass of the North mural are displayed on the 1st floor:  Texas Ranger and Prospector; Apaches; Pioneer Couple, Spanish Conquistador, Mexican Charro and Franciscan Friar; and Cavalryman, Postal Courier and Frontiersman.

 

ODESSA

Ellen Noel Art Museum

4909 E University Avenue, Odessa TX 79762

Daniel Zeis, Curator | daniel@noelartmuseum.org  |  noelartmuseum.org

Tom Lea’s Stampede mural was restored and relocated from the Odessa Post Office to this art museum. A full-scale reproduction occupies the spot where the original once was in the current-day post office at 200 N. Texas 79761. 

 

DALLAS

George W. Bush Presidential Library Museum

2943 SMU Boulevard, Dallas, TX 75205  |  georgewbushlibrary.smu.edu

George W. Bush quoted Tom Lea’s optimistic words about living on the “sunrise side of the mountain” and he had Lea’s Rio Grande in his office. A reproduction is displayed in the museum’s facsimile of the Oval Office, complete with a Texas Rose Garden outside its glass French doors. 

Dallas Historical Society Hall of State – Fair Park 

3939 Grand Avenue, Dallas, TX 75210

Toby Hazelip, Exhibits and Facilities Manager | toby@dallashistory.org  |  hallofstateevents.com

The Hall of State at Fair Park was built in 1936 for the Texas Centennial. Its Art Deco design is crafted in Texas limestone. Tom Lea painted two murals for the West Texas Room inside (now called the Dealey Library), with its cattle-brand walls and shades with horse tail tassels. Lea’s murals depict a lanky cowboy and pioneer family riding in their wagon across desert mountains above the view of their town. 

 

WACO

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum

100 Texas Ranger Trail, Waco, TX 76706  |  texasranger.org

Two Tom Lea paintings – A Little Shade, 1965, and Yonder’s Fort Fisher and Here’s a Recruit, 1968 – are displayed in this museum that also serves as a Hall of Honor for the Texas Rangers, whose history as lawmen goes back to 1823.  

Carroll Library at Baylor University | The Texas Collection

1429 S 5th Street, Waco TX 76798

John Wilson, Director | John_wilson@baylor.edu  |  baylor.edu/lib/texas/

Baylor  is a Baptist university first opened in 1846 at Independence, Texas, and now located in Waco. It is named for Robert Emmet Bledsoe Baylor, who rode his horse as a district judge “with the laws of Texas in one saddlebag, and the Holy Bible in the other.” Tom Lea did a portrait of R.E.B. Baylor for a book about the university’s namesake. It is housed with Lea books and archival materials.

 

FREDERICKSBURG

The National Museum of the Pacific War

340 E Main Steet, Fredericksburg, TX 78624  |  pacificwarmuseum.org

Tom Lea served as an artist correspondent for LIFE magazine during WWII, landing with the 7th Marines on the island of Peleliu. Thirteen paintings documenting his experience are housed at the U.S. Army Center of Military History at Fort Belvoir, VA. And a reproduction of Marines Call It That 2,000 Yard Stare introduces the Peleliu exhibit.

 

AUSTIN

The State Capitol Building

1100 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78701

Ali James | 512-475-4982  Ali.James@tspb.state.tx.us   TOUR INFO

Tom Lea’s painting Ranger Escort West of the Pecos, 1965, was commissioned by C.R. Smith, the first president of American Airlines, for Gov. John Connally. The painting has been displayed in the offices of several subsequent governors, and now is displayed in Capitol 1s.1 where it can be viewed on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. with the understanding that the state business may require unforeseen closure.

The Blanton Museum at the University of Texas at Austin

200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard Austin, TX 78712

Carter Foster | Carter.foster@blantonmuseum.org

Tom Lea’s epic painting of a West Texas cattle drive, The Lead Steer, is in the collection of the Blanton Museum. It not always on view, but appointments can be made to see it. 

The Bullock Texas State History Museum

1800 Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas  78701  |  thestoryoftexas.com

The lobby of the museum contains quotes from famous Texans imprinted in the entry wall. Tom Lea, in speaking about West Texas said: Its richness is space, wide and deep and infinitely colored, visible to the mountain rim of the world. Huge and challenging space to evoke high and challenging freedom.

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin

300 W 21st Street, Austin, TX 78712

Showings by appointmentCathy Henderson  c.henderson@austin.utexas.edu  |  hrc.utexas.edu   

An internationally renowned humanities research library and museum, the HRHRC is one of the largest repositories of Tom Lea’s art and writing. It holds illustrations from his bestselling novel The Brave Bulls, paintings done in China during World War II, and his portraits of Madame and Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek among other works. Its Tom Lea Room with wall displays are opened by appointment.

Texas State Cemetery

909 Navasota Street, Austin, TX 78702

Tour reservations: Eric Boedy, 512-305-8524   

A cenotaph memorializing Tom Lea and his wife, Sarah, is located on Republic Hill – the most historic part of the cemetery. It is arguably the most beautiful monument with its relief of Mount Franklin and Tom Lea’s optimistic words by which he lived his life: Sarah and I live on the east side of our mountain. It is the sunrise side, not the sunset side. It is the side that sees the day that is coming, not the side to see the day that is gone. The best day is the day coming, with the work to do, with the eyes wide open, with the heart grateful.

 

BRYAN/COLLEGE STATION

Texas A&M Press

John H. Lindsey Building 4354 Lewis Street College Station, TX 77843

Shannon Davies, Director | sdavies@tamu.edu

The original logo of the book-publishing arm of Texas A&M University was designed by Tom Lea, reflecting the university’s  land grant mission by representing air, fire, water and earth in the design. The press has a display of Lea books and original Lea drawings. 

 

HEBBRONVILLE

East Foundation

310 Galbraith Street, Hebbronville, TX 78361

Neal Wilkins, Ph.D, President & CEO | nwilkins@eastfoundation.net  |  eastfoundation.net

Tom Lea’s 1941 poem Randado was written after the artist rode through Texas brush country and camped near Hebbronville. Randado was a Spanish land grant and is now part of the old San Antonio Viejo Ranch owned by the East Foundation, which has artifacts and displays of ranching history. Visitors can arrange to drive through the Wild Horse Desert where Tom Lea spent time. 

 

KINGSVILLE

King Ranch Museum/Henrietta Memorial Center

405 N 6th Street, Kingsville TX 78363  |  king-ranch.com 

Tom Lea wrote and illustrated the two-volume history of The King Ranch in 1957, widely considered the greatest ranching history ever written. The novel Giant was written by Edna Ferber after Tom Lea was chosen to write the ranch history instead of her. A tour of the ranch explains why it took Tom Lea five years to finish writing the history of “This Mammoth Rancho.”

 

GALVESTON

Moody Medical Library at the University of Texas Medical Branch

914 Market Street, Galveston, TX 77555

Bobby Marlin, Archivist | romarlin@UTMB.edu

The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston was the first medical school west of the Mississippi and is home to Tom Lea’s First Recorded Surgical Operation in North America: Cabeza de Vaca Taking an Arrow Out of an Indian’s Chest in 1535, painted for the Texas Surgical Society’s 75th anniversary in 1965.

Bryan Museum

1315 21st Street, Galveston, TX 77550  |  thebryanmuseum.org

This private collection of Texana is housed in the Old Orphan’s Home of Galveston that was rebuilt by William Randolph Hearst of New  York after the devastating hurricane of 1900. Now owned by Texas collector J.P. Bryan, the museum includes a Texas Masters Gallery featuring paintings and drawings by Tom Lea. 

 

new mexico

SANTA FE

New Mexico Museum of Art

107 W Palace Ave, Santa Fe, NM 87501

Erica Prater, Collections Manager | Erica.prater@state.nm.us  |  nmartmuseum.org

The museum owns four Tom Lea Paintings from the 1930s, including Snake Dancers and Leñador. These modern works were done for the federal government’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression, when artists were paid a stipend to paint. Tom Lea painted local scenes: a man delivering wood and a Pueblo Indian snake dance. Contact collections manager to arrange viewing.

 

LAS CRUCES/MESILLA

Branigan Cultural Center

501 North Main Street Las Cruces, NM 88001  |. las-cruces.org/1528/Branigan-Cultural-Center

Tom Lea’s mural of The First Books Brought to New Mexico by Franciscan Friars in the 17th Century was painted for this historic library building in 1936.

Branson Library at New Mexico State University

1305 Frenger St, Las Cruces, NM 88003  |. lib.nmsu.edu

Two 1930s murals  – Conquistadors and Old Mesilla – tell the 400-year history of New Mexico and the village of Mesilla on the banks of the Rio Grande.  

 

mexico

Cd. JUÁREZ

Juárez Avenue La Avenida Juárez

This famous street formerly called Calle del Comercio was flooded by U.S. pedestrians during Tom Lea’s time, and he, Sarah and their friends frequented establishments like the Tivoli to watch world-class floor shows and The Kentucky Club following a bull fight. The street connects the downtown bridge to the Juárez historic district and has been beautified with a canopy of lights matching the Paseo de Las Luces in El Paso on the other side. 

Tin Tan Museum Museo Tin Tan

Tom Lea enjoyed the rhythm of life in Mexico and Germán Genero Cipriano Gómez Valdés de Castillo – Tin Tan for short – added to its vibrancy.  A native of Mexico City who grew up in Juárez, he was one of Mexico’s most beloved actors, singers, dancers and comedians, making the combination of Spanish and English – a “Spanglish” referred to as “Caló” – famous. This gem of a museum has a selection of photos, memorabilia and movie posters from Tin Tan’s more than 100 movies, including Calabacitas Tiernas (1949), voted one of the best comedies in Mexican cinema.  

Armas Square Plaza de Armas

Tom Lea loved the history of Paso del Norte, recording it in descriptive prose and pictures. The historic plaza in front of the Misión de Nuestra  Señora de Guadalupe was originally plotted by order of the governor of New Mexico in 1680, and today includes a bandstand kiosk, benches, and a fountain with bronze version of the beloved Mexican entertainer Tin Tan, seated for photo ops. 

Historic City Hall Antigua Presidencia Municipal

The location of this neo-Spanish colonial building, constructed in 1947 with volcanic rock and cantera stone, is on the same site as an older adobe, which was the seat of civic authority beginning in 1680. It served in many capacities, including as a fort, a place of surveillance, and a jail. In the 18th and 19th centuries, peace treaties were signed here with the Apache. The building is currently used as a  municipal cultural center, and its inside foyer is covered with murals telling the history of the region beginning with Cabeza de Vaca in the 1530s and ending with the signing of the Chamizal Treaty more than 400 years later.  

Cuauhtémoc Market Mercado Cuauhtémoc

Located next to the historic mission, the Cuauhtémoc Market first opened its doors in the 1880s.  While fire destroyed earlier buildings, the new structure houses a fascinating variety of herbal cures, clothing, birds, Mennonite cheeses, and souvenirs. An open-air market surrounds it.

 

The Mission of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Misión de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Established in 1659 by Fray García de San Francisco, this mission church was a strategic site for the 17th-century colonization of New Spain. A fine example of Franciscan mission architecture in New Mexico, it is the mother of El Paso’s lower valley missions. The wisdom of selecting this location was proved when defeated Spaniards and Indians fled south to rally here following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, a subject captured by Tom Lea in a mural titled Conquistadors displayed in the Branson Library at New Mexico State University forty miles north in Las Cruces.

Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Catedral de Nuestra Señora  de Guadalupe

Originally completed in 1945 to enlarge the capacity of the small mission structure next door, the church was elevated to the status of Cathedral in 1957. Due to structural problems, it was rebuilt in the 1970s in a modern style with stunning stained glass by Fred and Nancy Griffin of El Paso, representing God’s divine plan of salvation for the world and Mexico through the Virgin of Guadalupe.  The clerestory lighting that illuminates the front of the church shows the Franciscan influence of the historic mission.  

Museum of the Revolution on the Border Museo de la Revolución en la Frontera

The Juárez customs house opened in 1889 and is where Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz welcomed U.S. President William Taft on October 16, 1909. It was the first time a U.S. president had visited Mexico, and Taft’s observation that Díaz’ failure to prepare the next generation would lead to instability was prescient. In 1910, the Mexican Revolution had driven Díaz into exile and unleased a 10-year civil war that killed millions of people. The story is told inside this beautifully repurposed historic building. Tom Lea’s father was mayor of El Paso from 1915-1917 during the Mexican Revolution. Villa put a price on the head of Mayor Lea and threatened to kidnap his two sons after he jailed his wife, Luz Corral Villa, for gunrunning. 

Benito Juárez Monument Monumento a Don Benito Juárez

Tom Lea admired Benito Juárez, making an exception to his rule of only painting portraits from life to accept a commission from the Pan American Round Table of El Paso to paint a portrait of him for President Harry Truman in 1947 (currently in the collection of the U.S. State Department). Juárez lived at Paso del Norte in 1865 during the French intervention, and the affection the citizens held for him was demonstrated when the city took the name Ciudad Juárez on September 16, 1888, and dedicated its most important monument – commissioned by the governor of Chihuahua for the centennial of Mexico’s independence – to Juárez on the same date 22 years later. Built of marble with bronze plaques depicting episodes from  Juárez’ presidency, it was begun in 1909 with President Porfirío Díaz laying the first stone. Italian sculptors Augusto Volpi and Francisco Rigalt oversaw the project.

The Alberto Balderas Bullring Plaza de Toros Alberto Balderas

The first Juárez bullring was built in the late 1800s behind the Guadalupe Mission. Mariano Samaniego built the first bullring located on this site in 1903, where Tom Lea developed an insider’s view of bullfighting.  His fascination led to his writing the best-selling novel The Brave Bulls in 1949, which became a Hollywood movie. After fire destroyed the ring, it was rebuilt in 1957 and dedicated to a great Mexican matador. Well-known photos of Tom Lea and his wife, Sarah, were taken in this bullring, where bullfights were dedicated to the American aficionado.  

Kentucky Club 

Purportedly the birthplace of the margarita and a place where enthusiasts would gather after a bullfight, the Kentucky Club is arguably the oldest bar in the city and has served Hollywood celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Steve McQueen, and John Wayne. Its famous name figures prominently in author Benjamine Alire Sáenz’s book Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2013.

 

NORTHERN CHIHUAHUA

Municipality of Janos Municipio de Janos

Fray Augustin Rodríguez, of whom Tom Lea wrote in his 1947 book Calendar of XII Travelers through the Pass of the North, travelled through Janos in 1581 as he made his way north to New Mexico. Apache congregated at Janos, and settlements by the Spanish were subject to Apache and Jumano raids. The first mission was established here in 1580, and the military presidio of Santiago de Janos was built in 1636. Remnants of these adobe structures  remain. 

Rancho “El Uno” 

The northern area of Janos is situated where the Chihuahuan desert transitions to the Sonoran. It is one of the most rugged areas of Chihuahua, ranging from arid scrubland to pine and oak forests. This 1.3 million-acre biosphere reserve of native grasses and buffalo – brought from the Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota – contributes to the biodiversity of Janos.  The largest prairie dog colony in North America is located next to it. When Tom Lea visited this site in 1997, his hosts expressed their desire for Rancho de Uno to remain as pristine as a Tom Lea landscape painting.  

Don Cuco Sotol

Don Cuco Sotol is an artisan distillery dedicated to making the smooth spirit from the perennial plant Dasylirion wheeleri which Tom Lea included in many of his paintings of the Chihuahuan desert. Four generations of the Jacquez family have perfected sotol, an art Don Cuco learned from his grandfather who lived among the Indians. 

Mennonite colonies 

Descendants of 16th-century Swiss Anabaptists, the Mennonites settled in Mexico in the 1920s to escape persecution for their beliefs. Many settled in Chihuahua, living in the colonies of Buenos Aires, Las Virginias and El Cuervo in Janos. They are famous for their dairy products and bread.

Laguna Fierro 

Created by Mormons in 1895, Laguna Fierro is an artificial lake named in memory of General Rodolfo Fierro who served as Pancho Villa’s right-hand man and lost his life at the site.  

Colonia Dublan 

Located at the entrance of Nuevo Casas Grandes, this Mormon colony was established between 1873 and 1885.  It is known for its agriculture, its Victorian architecture, and as the birthplace of George W. Romney, former governor of Michigan.

Paquimé and Museum of Northern Cultures 

The archaeological site of Paquimé was deserted by the time the Spanish arrived, which remains a mystery to this day.  Declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1996, Paquimé reached its apogee in the 13th and 15th centuries as a trading and ceremonial site. Tom Lea’s father had a collection of Casas Grandes pottery in his study at home in El Paso. From the time he was a child, Tom Lea was drawn to their designs, sometimes incorporating them into his landscape paintings.

Hacienda de San Diego

Once the property of Don Luis Terrazas – who, when asked if he were from Chihuahua responded “Chihuahua is mine!” –  this hacienda is built in the grand style of the Porfiriato, when General Porfirio Diaz ruled Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  

 

Colonia Juárez 

Located in the valley of the Piedras Verdes River, Colonia Juárez was established in 1886 by Mormon pioneers and is known for its peach and apple orchards and cattle. Its Juárez Academy is one of the top academic institutions in the region, renowned for its English-based curriculum.

Mata Ortíz 

Mata Ortíz is known worldwide for its fine pots made of native clays and painted with brushes made from children’s hair. When Tom Lea visited in 1997, he was fascinated by the technique of painting perfect lines on a curved surface, and was shown how by Juan Quezada. By studying chards at Paquimé nearby, Quezada taught himself to make pots. American anthropologist Spencer MacCallum visited the village in 1976 and helped promote the pottery in the United States.  In 1999, Quezada was presented with Mexico’s National Award for Arts and Sciences.

REACH US

MAIL: PO Box 103, El Paso, TX 79941

EMAIL:  hcobb@tomlea.net
PHONE: 915-533-0048

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