Enchanting People of New Mexico - Peter Hurd

Welcome to the Fresh Chile Company Podcast - Enchanting Stories of New Mexico. Tune in to listen to all things New Mexico Chile, and other enchanting facts about New Mexico.
Click the picture above to see all of the ways that you can listen to this podcast or click one of these links to go directly there!
Spotify, Apple Podcast, iHeartRadio

Episode 17 - Peter Hurd

Michael Swickard here. Welcome to Enchanting People of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Our award-winning Hatch Green and Red Chile is from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World. Every Monday and Friday I do Historical and Cultural New Mexico Podcasts. Wednesdays, I celebrate people.

One of the icons of New Mexico was born in Roswell, New Mexico in 1904, eight years before New Mexico became a state. In his lifetime not just New Mexico, not just the United States, the entire world took notice of his talent and treasured his artistry. I am talking about Peter Hurd, a painter who has left many lasting images for all time. Especially San Patricio, New Mexico.

The man we refer to as Peter Hurd was actually born Harold Hurd, Jr. but was called for some reason Pete as a child. He legally changed his name to Peter as an adult. His father, Harold Hurd, Sr. was from Boston and practiced law in New York City until moving to the Roswell New Mexico area for his health.

So, Harold Jr., we will call him Peter, was raised near Roswell on a ranch. He spent time exploring the land which is reflected in his paintings much later in life. For high school he was a cadet at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. He was appointed to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point in 1921. However, he was honorably allowed to resign since his art would not wait. He even sold a painting to one of the officers at West Point. In 1923 Hurd went to Haverford College, located near Philadelphia and in December of 1923 contacted the famous illustrator, Newell Convers Wyeth, better known as N. C. Wyeth, a painter and illustrator who in his lifetime created about 3,000 paintings while illustrating 112 books. Peter Hurd became one of Wyeth’s private students while living in the family’s barn. He went to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1924 at the direction of N. C. Wyeth.

The entire Wyeth family was taken by this skinny New Mexico lad who always wore cowboy boots. In fact, in 1929 after being around each other for five years Peter Hurd married N. C. Wyeth’s eldest daughter, Henriette, who also was a fine painter.

In 1934 Peter with his wife moved back to New Mexico where he stayed the rest of his life. They bought 40 acres in San Patricio, New Mexico which is on Highway 70 between the communities of Hondo and Glencoe. It is west of Roswell, about forty miles. Over the years they acquired more land ending up with what was called the Sentinel Ranch of 2200 acres.

This part of New Mexico in that valley provided much material for his work as he focused on the common workers and people of the valley. His wife Henriette painted floral studies and still life paintings along with oil portraits. They were proud parents of three children, Peter, Carol, and Michael Hurd. The youngest, Michael was born in 1946 and didn’t really start painting until he was 30 but is a fine landscape and portrait painter still working today at his art.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

We are talking about world famous painter Peter Hurd. Did you know that he was the first actor in the title role of Billy the Kid in the inaugural Last Escape of Billy the Kid pageant staged in 1940 in Lincoln New Mexico. In fact, every year of the pageant it is staged on the very spot where the real Billy was able to engineer a getaway shortly before he was to be hanged.

The role of Billy the Kid required someone who could ride a horse, handle a six-shooter and have the look and feel of the outlaw. Peter Hurd was raised on a ranch outside of Roswell and attended the New Mexico Military Institute along with a year at West Point where he boxed on the West Point team. So he was the initial Billy and some time in the 1940s Peter Hurd thought he might want to play Billy again. However, as he told it, he attended a rehearsal and noticed suddenly that the bullets being fired by the reenactors, well, some of them bounced off the walls which if they were firing blanks would not do. So he stepped back and let someone else have the honor, concerned that there were live rounds in some of the pistol.

One of the best of Peter Hurd’s work was his Billy the Kid painting which was called The Last Escape of Billy the Kid. It is lively and true to life as for the landscape with Capitan Mountain behind and a horse with Billy on it. Peter Hurd wrote as to his interest in Billy the Kid, “The romantic side of his rebellious nature and his willingness to buck the system is why I like him.”

When World War Two began Peter Hurd was hired by Life magazine and attached to the U. S. Army Air Corp as a war correspondent doing many of what he called, “War Sketches.” He, somewhat like Bill Mauldin and Ernie Pyle who I covered in previous podcasts, was able to show the human side of the individual citizen soldiers in the field. Because he had been trained at New Mexico Military Institute he understood the military better than some of the other correspondents and was able to focus on lasting images of that conflict.

Because he was in a war zone and lots of stuff was happening, he was forced to draw the images very quickly and it was a great training area to hone his talents. At one point he was dissatisfied with just the drawings and started using watercolors for his images.

Back home in Lincoln County, Peter Hurd continued with another part of painting to which we are still amazed, the doing of large-scale murals at New Mexico Military Institute, at Texas Tech in Lubbock and several others. He also painted many large fine paintings in egg tempera which the prints are still selling forty years after his passing.

Me, I have a signed print of the Red Pickup which was painted just north and west of Roswell and has a view that my aunt and uncle had so it is both artistic and personal. The large painting is complimented by a small red pickup that is going down a dusty road of Pine Lodge Road with a storm possibly coming in. I saw it exhibited and it in its real size was magnificent. Even my framed print is very nice. And I think of my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Ralph Smith.

In the 1950s Peter Hurd and a couple assistants painted a group of fresco mural paintings and over a two year period of time they did one a week with the theme of Western pioneers and the influential West Texas leaders that made Texas what it is today.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

There is one painting that is tied to Peter Hurd and to the best of what I know is not understood. It was one of two heads of state that in the 1960s he painted. No problem with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. And he had done a small portrait of President Lyndon Johnson when Time Magazine had it on the cover talking about the President elect in January 1965.

So he was commissioned to do the Presidential Portrait of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States. Now the way it usually worked Peter Hurd would have at least thirty hours of Lyndon Johnson sitting to get the painting right. Johnson gave him 30 minutes.

So Peter Hurd had photographs and one thing that the historians did not seem to know. I was the publisher and editor of the Lincoln County News from 1978 to 1981. In the files was a picture from about 1966 of Peter Hurd painting the famous LBJ painting using a man who resembled Johnson. It was Bud Payne who at the time was the County Coroner and at other times was a Lincoln County Commissioner. Bud was the stand-in and I have a picture of it.

Hurd worked on the 48 by 38-inch painting for about 400 hours. President Johnson was said to have rejected it saying, “That’s the ugliest thing I ever saw. I have it on good authority that Johnson was very cranky that day, things were not going well for his war in Vietnam and he was trying to decide if he was going to run for a second term. What one person said is that the president, who was a very handsome man earlier in his life felt the painting which was quite accurate showed his age too well. Someone else made the Johnson presidential painting for the White House and Peter Hurd donated his Johnson Portrait to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery where it is today.

One interesting thing was that on President Johnson’s second to the last day in office he was at the National Press Club. He spoke about being misquoted saying, “I remember that Peter Hurd painting. Do you all remember that? I never said it was ugly. Actually, I thought it was a pretty good likeness, except for one little detail: It left off the halo.”

If you are interested in some of Peter Hurd’s work, and his wife Henriette Wyeth and Michael Hurd, you can see those paintings at the Hurd-La Rinconada Gallery in San Patricio, New Mexico. He died in 1984 at the age of 80 and his work today is just as popular as it was during his lifetime. Peter Hurd, painter for the world, master painter for all time.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

Let me tell you about some products at the Fresh Chile Company that I find wonderful. We have a mild Green Chile, best for people who love the Chile flavor but do not really want too much taste heat. Varietal Special Reserve Machete Hatch chopped Green Chile is only made with 1" thickly chopped Machete Chile. Machete has a heat level below average compared to other types of Hatch Chile.

Now we have a medium taste heat Big Jim Special Reserve Varietal. This product is only made with Big Jim Chile in a 16-ounce jar.

Hot? You like Hot? We have our varietal Matador Hatch Chile made with 1" thickly chopped Sandia Select Chile. Matador is an XHot Hatch Green Chile with an above-average taste heat level compared to other types of Hatch Chile.

So, friends, for the flavor of Chile with just the right taste heat level check these three out to discover which one is just right for you.

Michael Swickard here. This is the Enchanting People of New Mexico. Thank you for your time today. We will always have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on these Podcasts. If you have something or someone you want me to talk about in a future podcast, write to: michael@freshchileco.com

Have a great rest of your day. Oh yes and eat plenty of that good Hatch Valley Chile. Like I always say, “Some Chile is good, more is better.” Bye for now.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.