Alexandre Hogue and other artists depicted oilfields during the Great Depression.

 

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.

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.

Born in Memphis, Missouri, on February 22, 1898, the future professor emeritus of art at the University of Tulsa grew up in Denton, Texas. He became known for his paintings of southwestern scenes — including murals of the 1930s petroleum industry.

Alexandre Hogue, Dust Bowl, 1933, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum SAAM

Alexandre Hogue, “Dust Bowl,” 1933, oil on canvas, 24 x 32 5⁄8 inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.

After graduating from Bryan Street High School in Dallas in 1918, Hogue moved to Minneapolis, where he attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He returned to Texas and worked as an illustrator for the Dallas Morning News before traveling to New York, where he worked in advertising.

While in New York, Hogue continue to refine his painting skills by visiting museums and galleries. Thanks to Roosevelt’s federal arts program, he returned to Texas to produced artwork in Dallas, Houston — and a small post office in Graham, Texas.

The Dallas Nine

Most of Hogue’s art featured landscape paintings, but he also explored abstract styles later in his career, according to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). He gathered with other Dallas-area artists — Jerry Bywaters, Otis Dozier, Everett Spruce and others who became known as the Dallas Nine. 

Hogue’s “Dust Bowl” collection was featured in Life magazine in 1937. His Erosion Series, including “Drouth Stricken Area,” depicted the era’s devastation and became his most well-known group of paintings.

 1937 Alexandre Hogue painting depicts the Pecos, Texas, oilfield with storage tanks in the foreground.

A 1937 Alexandre Hogue painting depicted an oilfield at Pecos, Texas, with storage tanks in the foreground and the green-roofed quarters for workers.

“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,” noted TSHA.

In addition to the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiative during the Great Depression, many post office murals were executed by artists working for a 1934 program of the Treasury Department to decorate public buildings.

Graham Post Office

Graham began on the Texas frontier as Fort Belknap in 1851. After the Civil War, two brothers originally from Kentucky purchased the local salt plant.  Then, in 1871 Colonel Edwin S. Graham and Gustavous Graham drilled one of the earliest natural gas wells in Texas while searching for additional sources of brine. The town was named for them one year later.

More importantly, oil was discovered nearby in 1917, and by the 1920s the town was booming. The influx of oilfield workers overloaded its small post office.

“Young County became the third-richest producing oil reserve in the state of Texas, with Graham in the center of the exploration,” explained Texas history researcher Nancy Lorance in 2006.

Historic building of Old Post Office Museum in Graham, Texas.

Completed in 1936, the Graham Post Office featured decorative aluminum grill work and sculptural metal lights. Its postal operations were relocated in 1992.

By 1936, a permanent U.S. Postal Service building was completed in the Graham town square. Designed by U.S. Treasury architect Louis Simon, the edifice includes decorative aluminum grill work, sculptural metal lights and “zig-zag art moderne” stone friezes. ‘

Hogue’s “Oil Fields of Graham,” originally adorned the post office lobby’s east wall. 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 posted on New Deal/WPA Art in Texas.

Alexandre Hogue's "Oil Fields of Graham" (Texas) post office mural.

About 12 feet wide and 7 feet high, Alexandre Hogue’s 1939 “Oil Fields of Graham” (Texas) can be found inside the Old Post Office Museum & Art Center, which opened in 1993.

However, the petroleum boom reflected in Hogue’s mural would 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 noted.

“Oilman’s Christmas Tree” artwork of Graham, Texas.

“Oilman’s Christmas Tree” is artwork the artist gave a local oilman who had explained oilfield technologies during visits to drilling sites, according to the Graham Leader.

 

When Graham’s postal service offices relocated in 1993, the city purchased the original downtown square building. A new Young County museum soon educated the public — and preserved the restored Hogue mural, (which technically is still on loan from the U.S. Postal Service).

On June 25, 1999, the historic Art Deco building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Hogue’s mural was restored in 2002 as an exhibit in the newly opened Old Post Office Museum & Art Center in conjunction with the Texas Cattle Raisers Association’s 125th anniversary. 

Oil Producer’s Input

A January 2012 article in the Graham Leader interviewed a petroleum geologist, the son of a local independent producer who was a good friend of Hogue during the Great Depression era.

“The artist wanted someone to take him on a drilling location so he could create realistic, detailed oilfield scenes,” explained 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 became 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 2008.

Tulsa Airport Mural

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. The Smithsonian exhibit is long gone, but Jackson’s 56-foot mural has been preserved on display at Tulsa International Airport (see Smithsonian’s Hall of Petroleum).

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Recommended Reading: Oil in West Texas and New Mexico (1982). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join today as an annual AOGHS supporting member. Help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Art of Graham, Texas” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/oil-fields-of-graham. Last Updated: June 18, 2022. Original Published Date: December 22, 2018.

 

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