art

Artist Tom Lea’s ‘Sarah In The Summertime’

As Valentine’s Day is approaching, I thought I’d share a romantic story about one of Texas’s greatest artists, Tom Lea.  This is a love story, expressed in one painting, titled “Sarah in the Summertime.”  I’ll tell you the story of that painting and how it came to be.

Tom Lea was a true renaissance artist in the sense that he was both a gifted painter and writer. He was a muralist and a novelist. His murals are, to this day, in public buildings in Washington, D.C., El Paso, his home town and Odessa. President George W. Bush had one of his paintings hanging in the Oval Office. Lea’s novels, “The Brave Bulls” and “The Wonderful Country” are considered Southwestern classics.  His two-volume history of the King Ranch can be found in any home with a good Texas library.

Tom met Sarah in 1938, when he was working on his celebrated “Pass of the North” mural in El Paso.  He was invited to a small dinner party where she was also a guest. Sarah was from Monticello, Illinois, and in town visiting friends. He was immediately enchanted by her and decided that evening that he wanted to marry her. Tom had the good sense not to confess to that wish right there. No. He waited until their first date two nights later to pop the question. She didn’t say “yes” until he met her parents. Several months later, they were married. It was a storybook romance that spanned 63 years.

Tom and Sarah were only apart for one extended period of time during their marriage, and that was during World War II, when he was an artist for Life Magazine, embedded with the U.S. Navy. He documented the realities of the war in drawings and paintings, the most famous of which was “The Two Thousand Yard Stare.” Naturally, Tom missed Sarah terribly every day.

Here I will let the famous novelist take over the narration. He wrote:

I had a snapshot of Sarah which I carried in my wallet during the whole war. I looked at it, homesick, all over the world. When the war was over, the first painting I began was a full-length, life-size portrait of Sarah in the same dress, the same pose, the same light as the little snapshot.

I worked a long time making a preliminary drawing in charcoal and chalk, designing the glow of light and the placement of the figure against a clearness of blue sky, the mountains like Mount Franklin, the leafy trees and green grass and summer sunlight, before I transferred the drawing to the canvas. It was a detailed and precisely measured drawing. For instance, Sarah’s height of 5 foot 6 in high heels was drawn on the canvas exactly 5 ft 6. The painting was done with devotion and without haste. First the background, then the figure, and finally her head. I remember that I worked 26 days painting the pattern of all the little flowers on the dress. … 2 years after I began work on it, longer than any other painting ever took me, I signed it framed it and gave it to Sarah. I see it everyday in our living room and I see Sarah [too]. 20 years have passed. “Sarah in the Summertime” means more to me that I could ever put on canvas.

Adair Margo, his agent and decadeslong friend, and founder of the Tom Lea Institute, told me that Tom Lea would never let that painting leave the house, not for any showing or exhibition. Only once was she able to convince him to put it in a local exhibit, but only for a few hours, and it had to be back that night.

Tom and Sarah are buried side by side in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. There’s one headstone with divided inscriptions for each. On Sarah’s side it says, from Tom, “Sarah and I live on the east side of the mountain. It is the sunrise side. It is the side to see the day coming. Not the side to see the day is gone. The best day is the day coming, with work to do, with eyes wide open, with the heart grateful.”

Texas Standard: February 8, 2021

As the White House prepares for new directives in border enforcement, Texas democratic lawmakers push for immigrant rights changes.Coming up, our conversation with Texas representative Mary Gonzales on how democrats in the Texas legislature plan to press colleagues over immigration rights. Also in a part of Texas that’s long complained of air pollution and a lack of official response, communities are banding together to get things done. We’ll have a report from Houston. And oil demand still down, so way are gasoline prices on the rise? Plus a new Juneteenth mural that promises to be more than just a work of art. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: November 4, 2020

A new political landscape in Texas? Not quite. On the day after the general election, what has changed, what hasn’t, any why? The dominant narrative in the run up to election day was how an historic turnout in a state seldom considered in play in recent years might change the political map of the Lone Star State. Notably: the power of younger voters, the Latino vote, and the fight for the suburbs. Donald Trumps six point margin of victory, and republican retention of control of the Texas house raise many questions about expectations and assumptions in the run up. We’ll explore that and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: September 8, 2020

The governor’s plan for a DPS takeover of Austin Police, how would that work exactly? The politics of policing, it’s not just Austin in the spotlight: the Dallas police Chief facing calls for her removal after protests this summer over police brutality, we’ll have the latest. And back to school day for many statewide, many first time teachers and students eager to go bilingual. And the border wall on a pre-election day fast track, and fighting the scourge of mosquitoes with more mosquitoes? Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: September 2, 2020

It is the first detailed look at the impact of the pandemic on state services and it includes a billion dollars in cutbacks. A thick document detailing how hard COVID-19 will hit Texas’ budgetary bottom line, the biggest hit to social services. Asher Price of the Austin American Statesman got the story and he joins us. Also, a Texas state senator demanding congress step forward to help find out why so many apparent killings at Fort Hood. And does a Texas city really hold the nation’s top spot in a jump in crime? A Politifact check and more today on the Texas Standard:

Cabin Fever

Some might usually be on a summer trip this time of year, visiting friends or family, or at least taking advantage of summer activities such as going to the community pool. Those options are fewer this year. Instead, many are spending extra time at home. That was the inspiration for this Typewriter Rodeo poem.

Texas Standard: July 10, 2020

As COVID-19 hospitalization rates hit new levels, an alarming trend spotted in Texas’ largest city: a rising number of at home deaths. We’ll have more on the new report from ProPublica and NBC news on at home deaths and Dr.Fred Campbell of UT Health San Antonio is back to take up more lister questions on the Coronavirus. And he was, for years, typecast as inmate number one. Now he’s embraced by kids and critics alike as a bonafide star. A new documentary on the rise of Danny Trejo. Our conversation with the actor, the week in Texas politics and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: June 11, 2020

Amid calls for defunding and dismantling police departments nationwide, Texas cities take up proposals for reexamining spending on law enforcement. A tale of two cities, both under pressure to change the calculus when it comes to policing and reform in the name of racial justice. We’ll hear from reporters in Houston and Austin. Also, museums across Texas struggling to reopen after a pandemic lockdown. And love in the time of COVID-19, Tech expert Omar Gallaga on how virtual matchups may outlive the virus. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: May 21, 2020

To vote by mail in Texas, or not? A familiar back and forth is playing out in the courts with enormous stakes in a presidential election year. If you call elections official and request a mail in ballot because you’re afraid of catching the Coronavirus, are you breaking the law? We’ll hear how the top election official in Texas’ capitol city is answering that question, among others. Also, questions raised about contracts awarded to get food that might otherwise be wasted to people in need. Plus a potential tsunami of evictions and much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: April 7, 2020

With 90 percent of all Texans on lockdown, what of the 10 percent mostly in rural Texas? A warning about an unseen spread eluding detection. We’ll have more on what researchers are saying about the unchecked community spread of COVID-19. Also, reports of an increase in domestic violence as Texans are try to cope with stay at home rules. And the growing gap over what to do to about health concerns for those behind bars. Plus, after a big tree is cut down in west Texas, why a family won’t let it go. All of those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: March 12, 2020

Fighting fear in the Alamo city, site of a federally mandated quarantine. We’ll have a conversation with Mayor Ron Nirenberg for more information. Also, the latest on spring break extensions, school shutdowns and sports cancellations in Texas and further afield amid Coronavirus concerns. And a Supreme Court win for the Trump administration’s remain in Mexico policy for asylum seekers. But some aren’t even getting to wait in Mexico for their hearings as they’re boarded onto planes and told to seek asylum first in Guatemala. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: July 16, 2019

Not another presidential tweet or campaign jab, but a change in the federal register that could lead to a profound change at the southern border. The new rules could effectively stop asylum claims at the border with Mexico, and it is certain to get a challenge in court. We’ll take a closer look. Also, teachers were promised pay raises. But who gets what, and why? Some disappointed by the calculus are promising political payback. And a slowdown in oil country, layoffs coming? Quite the opposite. Those stories and then some today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: June 6, 2019

Citing a crisis, border officials say they will cut off funding for anything not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety in U.S. shelters. Officials tell the operators of resettlement shelters to end English classes, recreation programs and other services because there isn’t the money to pay for it. We’ll take a closer look. Also, concerns about suicide among farmers and a new effort to reach out across rural Texas. Plus, what voting data tells us about just how far to the right and left our own lawmakers really are. Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: May 13, 2019

Tick tock… the clock is winding down on the Texas Legislative session. But there’s a lot left to be done. We’ll have the latest on what affects you from under the dome. Also, the big business of toy guns. So realistic, police can’t tell the difference. And that’s had deadly consequences. And if you take the back roads through rural parts of Texas, you’ll see towns dotted with dance halls. Many have been shuttered or lost to time, but there’s a renewed effort to get them swinging again. Plus, efforts to highlight and reframe the story of the Alamo keep bumping up against other important parts of Texas history. We’ll have the latest on that and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: March 20, 2019

How much does Texas stand to lose if president Trump’s emergency declaration holds? The Pentagon does the numbers. Projects at Fort Bliss, Fort Hood and Joint Base San Antonio all on the chopping block if money is diverted to a border wall. We’ll have details. Also, what could be the next hot ticket for career builders: as the Texas University launches a masters degree in dementia studies. And when it comes to fortune 500 companies, does a texas city really hold the top spot in the nation? A Politifact check and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: January 4, 2019

U.S. Representative Will Hurd of Texas is a Republican but he sided with Democrats yesterday in a vote to reopen the government. We’ll ask him why. Also, volatility: It’s a term investors don’t much like to hear in talks about the stock market. Why the last several weeks have been so up and down. Also, security is a term houses of worship are reconsidering after sanctuaries have become targets. We’ll hear from church and mosque leaders in Texas. And federal employees suing the government, the latest on court battle over the Affordable Care Act, and a little arts and poetry today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: December 26, 2018

Some observers say the Lone Star State is experiencing a moment: we’re turning it into an hour as we go deep in the art of Texas on a special edition of the Texas Standard. From a major face lift at Houston’s museum of fine arts to a renaissance of Texas music spreading far and wide beyond the stereotypical frontiers, a famous film director returning to his roots, a photographer giving us a new perspective of our home state from a mile in the sky, to kids in the valley turning their lives into verse…we’re getting creative on this special edition of the Texas Standard: