The State Archives and Library Building, built in 1961, was designed to feature an expansive mural in its lobby to depict Texas’ rich and intricate past. The mural, created by artist Peter Rogers, provides an artistic view of historical events, groups and individuals that shaped Texas history.
As the Texas State Archives and Library Building neared completion, the large artistic rendition of Texas history the lobby was designed to accommodate remained undecided. In April 1961 Governor Price Daniel wrote to artist Peter Hurd inviting him to attend the next State Building Commission meeting in Austin to propose ideas for the mural.
After visiting and presenting his impressions of an appropriate design to the commission in May 1961, Hurd requested that a scale model of the lobby be sent to him so that he could work on the composition as it would appear in the actual lobby. In January 1964, Hurd wrote to Governor Connally with photographs of the mural design and explanation of its theme.
Hurd is clear in his April 21, 1964 letter to Admiral Nieman that the design presented to Governor Connally earlier that year was entirely that of Peter Rogers; and, for reasons he mentions in the letter he (Hurd) had passed the project off to Rogers completely. Furthermore, Hurd states that he had previously referred to Rogers as his ‘associate’ solely to prevent bias against the design.
None-the-less, while it was undoubtedly Hurd's reputation as an accomplished painter and muralist that helped win the commission for the artwork, Hurd continued to be associated as the primary source behind the design until in 2014 the State Archives began preparations for an exhibit celebrating the mural’s 50th year and revisited documents associated with the project. Further clarity of the subject was revealed during Mr. Rogers' visit later that summer.
This black and white photograph of Roger’s proposed design shows most of the final elements of the mural already in place. Mural – Peter Hurd, Texas State Library and Archives Commission Administrative Division records, 1989/015-2.
50 Years after Painting the Mural
“A talk given at the Texas State Archives and Library building on 31st July 2014, it being an explanation of how a 31-year–old Englishman came to paint a mural of the history of Texas.”
And so began Peter Rogers' talk to about 100 people on Thursday, July 31, 50 years after the summer of 1964 when he painted the beautiful and iconic mural which has greeted thousands visiting the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building at 1201 Brazos Street in Austin, over the years.
Invited by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the Friends of Libraries & Archives of Texas, Mr. Rogers traveled from his home in San Patricio, New Mexico to Austin (and back in time) to share his stories and recollections of how he designed and painted the mural. And he delighted his audience with his gentle manner, good nature and humor in telling his story and revising history about who actually painted the mural and a few other myths surrounding it.
“In 1962, having just broken up with my first wife, I was living alone in Spain. There I met Carol, Peter Hurd’s daughter, and we fell in love. When she returned to the States, I followed her, arriving in the U.S. on 7th March 1963.”
At the time, Mr. Rogers did not realize that he was “proposing to marry into the premier family of painters in America” for Carol Hurd is the granddaughter of N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth’s niece, and her mother, Henriette Wyeth Hurd is also a wonderful painter. While staying in New Mexico with the Hurds, Peter Hurd told Mr. Rogers about the Archives mural commission he had won in 1961, but since then Hurd had decided that he really didn’t want to do it, and he suggested that Peter Rogers could do it.
“He knew that I was capable of doing it because I had a comprehensive photographic record of much of my previous work. Furthermore, I was already a member of the Royal Society of British Artists and had been exhibiting in one of the top London galleries.”
With a Texas history book, a copy of Lon Tinkle’s 13 Days to Glory and a scale model of the Zavala building lobby, Mr. Rogers began his own education of Texas history, with the actual mural design sketched out at his parents’ kitchen table in Sussex, England. Back in New Mexico, he showed his pen and ink sketch to Peter Hurd who rolled it up and sent it to Governor Connally. Meanwhile Peter Hurd had divulged who had actually designed the mural to Admiral H.R. Nieman, the state building commissioner in charge of the project.
“He now knew that Peter Hurd wanted to hand over the commission to me, and that I was the one who had made the design. This put a different complexion on the whole undertaking because in America I was a complete unknown.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Rogers went to work on a color sketch which he and Carol took to Admiral Nieman in April 1964. The admiral liked it, gave Mr. Rogers a $200 advance and drew up a new contract naming “Peter Hurd and Peter Rogers, associate artists.” A month later, Mr. Rogers received a first payment of $5,800.
The original Peter Rogers color sketch, minus Mirabeau B. Lamar, now hangs in the board room of the Caesar Kleburg Wildlife Research Institute in Kingsville, TX. The sketch was auctioned off among Gov. Connally’s belongings when he declared bankruptcy in 1988. Image courtesy of Caesar Kleburg Wildlife Research Institute.
In early June 1964, Mr. Rogers began work on the mural constructing a scaffolding tower that he could roll around. He primed the wall with gesso and drew a grid of one-foot squares. Working from photographs of his original design which he had divided into one-inch squares, he drew the entire composition in black Conté crayon. This he sprayed with a fixative. When he discovered that he didn’t like the water-based casein paints he originally planned to use, he had to cover the entire wall with an acrylic polymer emulsion to protect the fixative from the turpentine of the oil paints he did use. He thinks he covered the painting with another coat of the acrylic polymer emulsion but admits that his memory is a “little hazy on this point.“
Some details of the summer aren’t hazy, however, like how cold the Archives building was and how warm his rented apartment would become. The building commission rented him a duplex just north of the Capitol for $55 a month that “was cooled by a swamp cooler that just seemed to make the hot humid climate that much more humid and not much cooler.”
After working all day painting, climbing up and down the scaffolding, and other strenuous activities associated with the mural production, Mr. Rogers would go straight to Scholz’s Beer Garden “ where the ice cold beer was a welcome relief” and where he made several friends with whom he would talk late into the night.
All went well with the mural work until “certain people, notably the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, became aware of the fact that Mirabeau B. Lamar was not included in the mural” and protested to the Governor and Admiral Nieman who defended this by explaining that not everyone could be included in the mural. In truth, Mr. Rogers had left Lamar out of the mural on purpose.
“In the course of my research, I had taken a strong dislike to him largely due to his ruthless treatment of the Indians.” However, in the end, Mr. Roger painted Lamar in because he needed another portrait to balance the design.
“There was also the fact that on one of their visits to the building to protest Lamar’s absence, one of the Daughters actually wept at the foot of my scaffold, she felt so strongly about it. How could I not put him in!“
“So in the end I made everyone happy and on the 5th January 1965, Governor Connally made me an Honorary Citizen of Texas. The mural had been completed sometime in (the previous) September.”
Eventually, the Peter Rogers color sketch ended up in Gov. Connally’s possessions, auctioned off along with all his other belongings when the Connallys declared bankruptcy in 1988. The sketch now hangs in the board room of the Caesar Kleburg Wildlife Research Institute in Kingsville where in 2008 Mr. Rogers was invited to tell about the painting which bears a plaque with Peter Hurd’s name on it.
“Over the years it seems that most people have preferred to think that Peter Hurd painted the mural. Consequently it did nothing to further my career. It did however set me up financially in America…and gave me a free year to produce a body of work that would be exhibited in London in 1966. …for me the (mural) commission was truly providential and to find out that for 50 years it has been enjoyed by so many people makes me very happy.”
And thus ended Mr. Rogers talk to which all present rose and gave a standing ovation. After answering numerous questions, including some of the commonly repeated notions that Mr. Rogers had used himself and his wife as models for figures in the mural (not true), Mr. Rogers was presented with a commemorative resolution from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, was treated to dinner at the University of Texas club, toured the De Zavala building, recorded an oral history of his mural memories and patiently answered all questions and posed for numerous photographs. He also signed and numbered over 100 digital prints of the mural that the Friends offer for a donation, and appeared before TSLAC’s seven-member commission the next day before returning to his home in New Mexico.
In his thank you letter to the Friends for inviting him and treating him so grandly, Mr. Rogers said he was “deeply moved by all the generous comments. To tell the truth, I had no idea the mural was such a success. That after 50 years it still excites such positive comment is something that, as I said in my talk, makes me very happy. I am deeply grateful to all of you.”
Download print files of the mural (opens in a new window/tab).
3. A group of Indians sitting in front of their tipis. The blue design around the front tipi indicates the chief's residence and what appear to be tassels on top of the poles extending from the top are actually scalps.
13. The sky over the Alamo is shown as it looked at the actual time of the battle: Santa Anna attacked at 4 a.m. in pre-dawn darkness — Mr. Rogers even researched what phase the moon was in that morning. The flames behind the Alamo represent the fires of revolution.
14. Texas develops its resources and becomes a state. The cowboy evokes trail-driving days, the rope around the longhorn represents control over the land with the windmill serving as a trademark for its development.
For years visitors to the lobby were told that the image of the fallen soldier was a self-portrait of the mural’s artist, Peter Rogers, and that he used his wife as the model for the young woman with a child on the right hand side of the mural. During Mr. Rogers’ 2014 visit to TSLAC on the 50th anniversary of the mural’s creation, he dispelled those as myths perpetuated by a TSLAC employee who worked in the lobby. He described her as having a “very fertile imagination” and “was trying to sort of spice up her commentary she would provide for the tourists” but there was “absolutely no truth in that…”
One portion of her commentary that was true was that because Mr. Rogers had never seen bluebonnets, the Texas state flower, he was sent bluebonnets. He recalled how they were packed in dry ice and air mailed to him in New Mexico where he was at the time working on a color sketch of the mural.
Image on the left shows Perry Huston and his assistant, Lyzanne Gann, of Perry Huston and Associates in Fort Worth conserving the mural in 1992. The image on the right shows Mark van Gelder of Art Conservation Services of Austin doing the same in 2010.
The mural, now 50 years old, has twice received restoration work, in 1992 and in 2010. An examination of the mural in late 1991 discovered that damage had been caused during ceiling repairs after asbestos abatement; and also that the mural showed some signs of deterioration and was in need of professional cleaning. In 1992, painting conservation firm Perry Huston and Associates of Fort Worth undertook the needed restoration and cleaning.
In 2010 after a major renovation of the building, Art Conservation Services of Austin was contracted to inspect the mural and to make necessary repairs which entailed re-adhering flaking paint, filling in paint losses, and cleaning the mural surface. A thorough treatment report details the materials used during the restoration and cleaning and cites tests conducted to determine the products and methods that would best preserve the integrity of the mural's physical composition and appearance. This careful documentation will allow future conservators to be fully informed of the restoration history and will help guide decisions about further steps to be taken to maintain the mural in its best possible condition.
These items are displayed here in PDF format and will open in a seperate window or tab - note that several of these files contain more than one page.
“Letter from Peter Hurd to Admiral H.R. Nieman, Executive Director, State Building Commission, introducing his son-in-law, Peter Rogers, as the author of the mural design, April 21, 1964.” 1989/029-1.
“Composite color photograph of TSLAC lobby mural, taken by Bill Malone, 1968.” Prints & Photographs 1969/058-1.