All images and text in 
"The Peter Hurd Fresco" 
virtual exhibition courtesy of
Museum of Texas Tech University
Lubbock, Texas
Text and Images published on our server with the permission of the Museum.


Notes On The Fresco
Peter Hurd

   The purpose of a wall decoration is to enhance the architecture of a building. It should never ignore nor depreciate it in any way. Moreover the artist should never deny the existence of walls but always think of them as solid, as flat and as absolute as they are. He should give them a special quality and beauty of their own, making them live in their own right and in terms of the artist's imagination.

   My job in the case of the Rotunda of The Museum in Lubbock was to draw the figures on a proper scale to fit a rather long frieze; one in fact which occupies sixteen panels, each panel approximately seven feet wide and twelve feet high; the panels forming a sixteen sided room. In order to decorate this room I felt it necessary to consider very carefully the height of the continuous horizon line. I finally hit upon what seemed to be the optimum height at four feet above the marble wainscote which in turn is four feet above the floor. Thus, in having a wide horizon I could give great scope to the vast South Plains landscape, a pet subject of mine for many years. In that landscape I have set the figures, buildings, vehicles, and, I hope, the color, the life and the weather which is so characteristic to this area. Towards the front of the frieze are the full length figures: portraits of early frontier people. These people do not go so very far back in time because Lubbock is (in 1954) only sixty-three years old. The lives of the persons portrayed overlap my own. This brings me to a point of great importance. All my painting, particularly this mural in Lubbock, is treated in an autobiographical sense. To explain and amplify this I would like to say that the many individual objects in the mural are items I have either owned myself, or seen and often painted, or wanted to paint. In instances of non-movable objects, such as the cottonwood tree, I have gone to the spot to study and draw the subject. There is a definite link between my own past and many of the things in the mural, items which have a nostalgic appeal to me as a person. If a similar commissiOn Should be offered me from some other part of the country, Alaska for instance, I would be reluctant to accept it, lest my treatment be synthetic.

   All this adds up to the fact that I am a regionalist. For better or for worse that is what I must be, because my world centers in the Southwest ""d it does not extend very far "way. I find in it enough material to delight and inspire me not for one lifetime but for several. So the project in Lubbock was ideal. It was only a stone's throw from where I was raised and a part of my own environment. It i, the largest job I have ever had; however, size in itself means little. But in it I believe I have kept the standard as high as in any other mural I have ever done.

  Anyone familiar with fresco techniques knows that you paint in feverish haste and with terrific concentration. You strain yourself and all Your resources during the moment of availability of the plaster. Time slips away, the plaster dries, and corrections are difficult. Unless the area is completely Scraped away and redone, only minor retouching is possible. Knowing this the painter must feel absolute dedication to, and passion for, his task while the plaster is wet.

   This limitation, occasioned by the behavior of the plaster, is the advantage and the challenge of fresco. The execution must be swift and sure. The preparation requires a great deal of schooling, a vast amount of pre-thought, and extensive consideration of the problems Presented by the walls. I spent four years on the Lubbock mural. (only sixteen weeks was I actually Painting - an average of one panel a week -- but untold, uncounted hours were spent thinking about it, considering the decorative problems, design, arrangement, and historical background. Then there was the matter of selection, what to include and what to eliminate, because if we included everything of interest the painting would begin to look like a mail order catalogue. There would have been no design, no rhythm, no pattern. It would have been a hodgepodge of many fascinating things. We had to eliminate, but we did include such things as horses, windmills, buggies, wagons, claim shacks, early churches, school houses, children, cowboys, freighters, farmers and range plants.

   I have always been fascinated by our Southwestern botany and by Nature's adaptability of it. Nature has made her plants fit our difficult environment and our country has become her proving ground, where she constantly experiments with plant life. So we have included some of our characteristic plants, such as the mesquite and the cottonwood, as well as smaller plants.

   One of the problems of this project was to arrange the figures over the doorways, because each of these panels is allotted to a certain person. So up over the four doorways we had to place these figures and prevent them from appearing about to fall off or even bothered with the precariousness of their position. We have a doctor with a horse and buggy, a lawyer, an editor and a school master, all above doorways. So we introduced balconies and mesas into the design. Then we had to incorporate the louvers of the heat ducts into the pattern. All of these things and many others made up the problems of the mural.

   The mural has its own perspective, a sort of never-never land of perspective and of life. It should be viewed with somewhat the same feeling and open-mindedness as one would a ballet or an opera. It should not be viewed with the ideas of complete realism and literalness, because we have constantly violated the laws of realism for the more important laws of design. We have tried to adapt our pattern, our thoughts and our ideas to the existing architecture. For instance, we have an oil well, a doctor driving away from a claim shack late at night, and some men beside a campfire, all within a few feet of each other, but by what we hope is the result of manipulation of color values and juxtaposition of lines, we have made you consider it as a dream-like sequence and not necessarily incongruous. Each scene is a world within itself, and that is the way it should be viewed.

   The viewer with a completely realistic and literal mind is going to be constantly baffled. I invite him to set aside his literalness and to look at the painting in the spirit of a dream. Even though the objects are easily recognizable, and there is nothing that a five-year-old child cannot get the drift of, the literal minded viewer will find items out of proportion in size and quantity to what they are in reality. There will be those who will say I put too much water in the irrigation ditch and in the field. I know this because I have worked with irrigation all my life and still do on my farm, but in the mural I wanted the reflection of the sky in the water.

   Finally, and I hope I speak with confidence, I have put much in the mural which should remind the viewer of his own experiences, as it reminds me of mine, for instance the great thunderstorm boiling up over the Plains, such as you see only in the Southwest. Other places have thunderstorms, but you do not see this wonderful, miraculous sweep of rain in the distance when you yourself are as dry as dust. Once I counted twenty rainstorms around me yet it was perfectly dry where I stood. These are eminently paintable subjects: the mystery and miracle of rainwater in a dry country, the rain itself, or well water, or any kind of water. These are things I have put into the mural in an effort to make people feel as I do the great miracle of human existence -- how supremely wonderful it is that we are alive on this planet, a tiny portion of the infinite galaxies, mysterious and forever challenging. If I have managed to get a little of that feeling into the Lubbock mural, I am happy.

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