by Mel Fenson
World-renowned southwestern artist, Peter Hurd was born in Roswell, New Mexico in 1904, the son of a prominent Boston family, who had moved to New Mexico for health reasons. His father, a graduate of Columbia University Law School, had practiced law in New York City.
Peter completed three years of high school as a cadet at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, and after graduation at the age of 17, was appointed to West Point Military Academy in July 1921. He spent two years at West Point, where his consuming love of art took preference over the military career his father had insisted upon. He transferred to Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania to study liberal arts and devote himself entirely to his painting.
Peter Hurd became acquainted with N.C.Wyeth, an illustrator of children's classics from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and in the Spring of 1924, began studying art under his tutorledge. Peter fell in love with Wyeth's eldest daughter, Henriette, whom he discovered was also an excellent artist, and they were married in June 1929.
Hurd first attained national fame for his work in the late 1930s, and over the next four decades he earned many awards and distinctions for his paintings. He later served as a war-correspondent artist for Life magazine during World War II, and received the European Theater Medal for Service Overseas in 1947. After World War II, Peter returned to New Mexico where he continued his painting career.
Peter was also very interested in archaeology. With his good friend Professor William Curry Holden, they explored the nearby Bonnell site in the Hondo River Valley for artifacts. Later, Professor Holden, while on an archaeological dig in a nearby area, became caught up in the famous Roswell UFO incident, when a mysterious craft supposedly crashed near the site, west of Roswell.
In 1959 Hurd was appointed to the Commission on Fine Arts by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and in 1966, he painted the official portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. Hurd's art has been exhibited in museums throughout the country and is part of many permanent collections, including works he has on display in the Roswell Museum.
Peter worked in a variety of media, including oil, lithography, watercolor, egg tempera, charcoal, and fresco. His work depicts the history of southwestern life. He achieved the best expression of his personal vision in the tempera paintings of the place he loved best, the small village of San Patricio, New Mexico, fifty miles west of Roswell, where he built the Sentinel Ranch in the 1930s. Painting on panels covered with several coats of gesso, Hurd's paintings captured the drama of light and shadow on the hills and the vastness of the southwest sky and plains in every season and every kind of weather in the area. His son, Michael, also a well known southwest artist still paints in his father’s studio in San Patricio, today.
In addition to his painting, Peter published articles in a variety of magazines on many subjects including not only art, but other topics, such as soil and land conservation, an issue to which he was passionately committed. Peter was an amateur meterologist and maintained a greenhouse at his ranch, where he grew tropical plants, including bananas. He was an outstanding horseman and had played polo on the internationally competitive New Mexico Military Institute’s polo team during his days as a cadet there. He continued to play his beloved polo on his own polo field at his ranch. In addition to his life of painting, ranching, farming, polo playing, and other pursuits, Peter and Henriette raised three children who also achieved their own distinction in the arts.
Peter Hurd died on July 9, 1984, not far
from his birthplace in Roswell.
Henriette Wyeth was the eldest daughter of Newell Convers Wyeth and Carolyn Bockius Wyeth. At the age of eleven, she began studying art under the guidance of her father. While receiving only general education in her father's studio, Henriette, nevertheless, inherited Newell Wyeth's determination which even a childhood bout with polio that crippled her right hand, did not discourage her love of painting.
She attended the Normal Art School in Boston at the age of thirteen and later the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. During this period of her life, she was exposed to the theater, which had a great impact on her future paintings in which she was able to transcend reality with a theatrical flair.
After her schooling she returned to Chadds Ford and continued her art under her father's guidance. It was there where she met her future husband, Peter Hurd, a student of her father’s. After their wedding, Henriette and Peter moved to Sentinel Ranch in San Patricio, New Mexico, where she continued to paint. She established herself as a respected painter and became the matriarch of the Wyeth Hurd Family.
Henriette’s home drew countless guests, who wished to have their portraits painted. She painted portraits of such famous people as actress Helen Hayes, author Paul Horgan and First Lady Pat Nixon. Throughout her career, Henriette painted members of her family including her children Michael and Ann Carol.
Henriette loved painting children as an embodiment of innocence and youth. Her compositions of still life with fruits and flowers show signs of reality, yet retain some mystery - which she believed each item possessed.
Henriette Wyeth is considered by many art scholars to be one of the greatest women painters of the twentieth century.
Michael Hurd, the youngest son of Peter Hurd and Henriette Wyeth has followed the famous line of Hurd and Wyeth artists and today is well known as a southwest painter in his own right. Although painting dominated his family environment and his parent’s lives, Michael was never encouraged to study art. His father knew it was difficult to make a living and encouraged him to pursue a business career instead of art. Following his father’s advice, Michael was graduated from Stanford University and attended a Chicago business school.
After college, however, he was drawn back to the arts and became intrigued with visually interesting subjects in his southwest environment. Under the direction and guidance of his mother, Henriette, he became seriously involved in painting by the time he was in his early twenties. His reputation as a painter grew and he earned the title of New Mexico's Distinguished Artist for 1995.
Today, Michael still paints and lives on Hurd Sentinel Ranch in San Patrico, New Mexico, west of Roswell, as he continues the Wyeth-Hurd tradition of painting.
influence of his mother's still life compositions
and of his father's landscape scenes of
are apparent in Michael's work, yet his paintings
represent his own unique style. Like Henriette’s paintings,
Michael's work portrays a certain quality of mystery.
Before Michael begins a painting, he studies his subjects for a great deal of time. He makes in pencil, charcoal and watercolor sketches for reference, then works from them to create his paintings.
about his work, Michael says, "I want to leave open ends, nuances, even
ambiguities for the viewer to resolve. I have a conviction about the viewer
being an integral part of a painting's working function and don't want to
define meanings so tightly they are inescapable."
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