PUBLIC WORKS ART PROJECT
Tom Lea developed a well-honed craft over the course of his seventy-five year career, giving us some of the state’s most important artworks of the 20th century. He produced works on canvas and paper exploring Texas and its legacy, created illustrations of his first-hand accounts of the tragedies of World War ll for Life Magazine, and wrote several western novels that would become Hollywood grist. But Lea’s most compelling and definitive works may be the larger than life-size murals he created for several post offices, a federal courthouse, a library, and the state’s grand exhibition hall. Many were created as part of the New Deal’s Public Works Art Project.
The Odessa mural, created in 1940 and moved to the newer post office in 1970, is one of his best, illustrating the cowpuncher’s worst nightmare – the stampede. The mural unravels across sixteen feet of wall space, a calamity of horns, hooves, and lightning strikes surrounding a central horse and rider as they tumble beneath the onslaught of a herd gone wild. Lea thought the Odessa location, approximately seventy miles from the historic cattle trail crossings along the Pecos River, served as appropriate home to the mural he claimed was inspired by “Little Joe, the Wrangler”, a classic western song first published in 1908. “We was camping on the Pecos when the wind began to blow,” the song’s first verse explains, “and we doubled up the guard to hold them tight, when the storm came roaring from the north with thunder and with rain, and the herd stampeded off into the night.”
In 2014, the mural was removed from the post office for restoration and is now on exhibit at the Odessa' Ellen Noël Art Museum. A full size photo replica has been installed at the post office.
Tom Lea Mural
Tuesday-Sunday 12 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.