Oil Art of Graham, Texas
Alexandre Hogue and other artists depicted oilfield life in the 1930s.
The 1939 “Oil Fields of Graham” mural by Alexandre Hogue is on display in its original Texas oil patch community’s historic U.S. Postal Service building – now a museum.
Born in Memphis, Missouri, on February 22, 1898, Hogue became known for his paintings of southwestern scenes during the Great Depression – including murals of the 1930s petroleum industry.
Hogue, a future Professor Emeritus of Art at the University of Tulsa, grew up in Denton, Texas. After graduating from Bryan Street High School in Dallas in 1918, he moved to Minneapolis, where he attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
Hogue returned to Texas and worked as an illustrator for the Dallas Morning News before traveling to New York, where he worked in advertising and spent time in museums and galleries, notes the Texas State Historical Association.
When President Franklin Roosevelt created public relief projects, including the New Deal Federal Arts Program, Hogue and other artists were commissioned to paint American history on the walls of public buildings.
Hogue soon produced murals in Dallas, Houston – and the post office in Graham, Texas. His popular “Dust Bowl” collection was featured in Life magazine in 1937.
“His ideas are expressed mainly in landscape paintings but they can also be traced through abstract and even nonobjective works later in his career,” explains an Historical Association article.
Hogue gathered with other Dallas-area artists – Jerry Bywaters, Otis Dozier, Everett Spruce and others who became known as the Dallas Nine.
“Although the Dallas Nine ceased to operate as a group after its members scattered to pursue careers throughout the state and beyond, artists from that circle continued to do meaningful work and exerted a powerful influence over a new generation of artists,” the Historical Association article concludes.
Today highly valued by art collectors, Hogue’s 1939 oil “Oil Fields of Graham,” oil on canvas, remains on display in its original the North Texas home.
Oil Fields of Graham in the Post Office
According to one local historian, during the Depression, post offices could be a source of income for shady politicians.
“Each newly elected administration would choose its own place for a post office, renting the building from some individual party,” explains historian Nancy Lorance. Fortunately for Graham, she adds, in 1936 a permanent U.S. Postal Service building was completed in the town square.
According to Lorance, Hogue’s “Oil Fields of Graham,” originally adorned the building lobby’s east wall.
She points out that the painting depicts Colonel Edwin S. Graham on the left, standing in front of Standpipe Mountain, two laborers working on a pipe line, and two men in street clothes examining blueprints.
“Also in the picture are a large piece of machinery, some oilfield boilers, and a truck,” Lorance adds.
In 1869, Col. Graham and his brother Gustavous had purchased a salt plant. The brothers, originally from Kentucky, drilled perhaps the first natural gas well in Texas in 1871 – while searching for additional sources of salt water. In 1872, the town of Graham was named for them.
Most importantly, oil was discovered nearby in 1917, according to the Chamber of Commerce, and by the 1920s, “Young County became the third-richest producing oil reserve in the state of Texas, with Graham in the center of the exploration.”
However, the petroleum boom reflected in Hogue’s mural will eventually suffer from severe neglect. “This meaningful picture of Graham deteriorated as the years passed and when the post office was repainted the mural was covered,” Lorance laments.
Fortunately, when in 1993 the Graham Post Office moved to a new site, the historic old building was purchased by the city. The Old Post Office Museum & Art Center would soon educate the public – and preserve the restored Alexandre Hogue mural, (which technically is still on loan from the U.S. Postal Service).
A January 2012 article in the Graham Leader interviewed a petroleum geologist – the son of a local oilman who was a good friend of Hogue in the Depression era.
“The artist wanted someone to take him on a drilling location so he could create realistic, detailed oilfield scenes,” explains the oilman’s son, Rob Roark.
“Dad told him how to design oil derricks,” he says. To show his appreciation, Hogue gave the elder Roark artwork. “Hogue wrote on the art titled, ‘Oilman’s Christmas Tree’ – If you and Mrs. Roark don’t like this one, we can exchange it for another print when you are in Dallas.”
Hogue will become a professor and eventually chairman of the art department at the University of Tulsa. Upon his retirement in 1963, the university established the Alexandre Hogue Gallery in his honor.
The artist died in 1994. A signed 1940 lithograph by Hogue – depicting a pipeline and called “Hooking on at Central” – sold at auction for $2,000 in May 2008.
Editor’s Note – In the late 1960s, a mural by equally well-known Tulsa artist and illustrator Delbert Jackson welcomed visitors to a petroleum exhibit at what later became the National Museum of American History.
Today, the Smithsonian exhibit is long gone – but Jackson’s 56-foot mural is on display at Tulsa International Airport. Read Smithsonian’s Hall of Petroleum.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact email@example.com. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.