July 11, 1907
Born in El Paso, Texas to Tom and Zola Utt Lea
1915 - 1917
Father is mayor of El Paso during the Mexican Revolution.
1912 - 1924
Attends Lamar Elementary and El Paso High Schools. Spends summers in Santa Fe. Mentored by art teacher, Gertrude Evans, and public librarian, Maud Durlin Sullivan.
1924 - 1926
Studies at the Art Institute of Chicago. Marries fellow art student Nancy Jane Taylor.
1926 - 1933
Quits school to work on murals, serving as an apprentice to John Warner Norton. Travels to Italy and studies Italian Renaissance muralists.
1933 - 1935
Lives and works in Santa Fe. Works atLaboratory of Anthropology, drawing “Rain Bird” Pueblo designs. Illustrates New Mexico Magazine. Paints for Works Progress Administration (WPA). Nancy Lea suffers complications from appendectomy.
Returns to El Paso. Nancy Lea dies. Completes mural for Branigan Memorial Library in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Completes Texas Centennial murals for Hall of State, Dallas State Fairgrounds. Enters juried competitions for Section of Fine Arts, Treasury Department, Washington, D.C. Completes The Nesters mural (lost), Ben Franklin Post Office, Washington, D.C. Meets printer Carl Hertzog and writer J. Frank Dobie.
Completes The Baptism of Christ mural, First Baptist Church, El Paso (lost), a memorial gift for his mother. Competes for San Antonio Post Office murals. Loses competition.
Completes Pass of the North mural in Federal Building, El Paso. Marries Sarah Catherine Dighton of Monticello, Illinois. One son, James Dighton.
Completes mural in Burlington Railroad Station, Lacrosse, Wisconsin. Completes Back Home, 1865 mural in Pleasant Hill, Missouri. Illustrates Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver and John C. Duval: First Texas Man of Letters by J. Frank Dobie. Competes for St. Louis, Missouri Post Office murals. Loses competition.
Completes The Stampede mural in Odessa Post Office. Illustrates The Longhorns by J. Frank Dobie.
Illustrates children’s book, Hills of Gold. Writes and illustrates Randado, designed and printed by Carl Hertzog.
1941 - 46
Completes Comancheros mural for Seymour, Texas Post Office. Awarded Rosenwald Fellowship. Declined. Hired by Life Magazine as World War II artist correspondent. Travels over 100,000 miles on four tours: North Atlantic (1941); Hornet in South Pacific (1942); China (1943); and, Peleliu (9-15-44). Work printed in ten issues: “Top Sergeant: Bruce Bieber Makes Soldiers Out of Citizens.” (July 7, 1941); “Soldiers at Work: Tom Lea Catches Their Absorbed Expressions.” (April 27, 1942); “Tom Lea Paints the North Atlantic Patrol.” (May 25, 1942); “Hornet’s Last Day. Tom Lea Paints Death of a Great Carrier.” (August 2, 1943); “Sinking of the Wasp.” (April 15, 1943); “Tom Lea Aboard the U.S.S. Hornet.” (March 22, 1943); “China’s War Anniversary.” (May 29, 1944); Hersey, John. “Three Airmen.” (May 29, 1944); “Life’s Artists Record a World at War.” (April 30, 1945); “Peleliu: Tom Lea Paints Island Invasion.” (June 11, 1945.
1944 - 1946
Writes and illustrates Grizzly from the Coral Sea and Peleliu Landing, designed and printed by Carl Hertzog. Submits The Shining Plain in “All-Texas Show” at Dallas Museum of Art. Painting rejected. Documents beef-cattle industry for Life Magazine.
Completes painting Sarah in the Summertime.
Writes and illustrates bestselling novel, The Brave Bulls
Paints portrait of Benito Juarez
World premiere of The Brave Bulls movie at Plaza Theater, El Paso, Texas.
Writes and illustrates bestselling novel, The Wonderful Country.
World premiere of The Wonderful Country movie at Plaza Theater, El Paso, Texas.
1952 - 1957
Writes and illustrates The King Ranch, designed by Carl Hertzog.
Completes Southwest mural for El Paso Public Library, a gift to citizens of El Paso.
1958 - 1959
Designs Steuben glass bowl, “Trail Driver.” Writes and illustrates The Primal Yoke.
1960 - 1965
Paints and writes about Mexican character Juan Sanchez. Illustrates Knight in the Sun. Writes and illustrates The Hands of Cantu. Paints Ranger Escort West of the Pecos for Texas Governor John Connally.
Paints portrait of Sam Rayburn for Rayburn Building, Washington, D.C.
1967 - 1968
Writes and illustrates A Picture Gallery. Western Beef Cattle published by Encino Press. Writes and illustrates Old Mount Franklin, designed and printed by Carl Hertzog.
Writes and illustrates In the Crucible of the Sun
1974 - 1997
Works as a studio painter in El Paso
Receives Colonel John W. Thomason, Jr. Award by U.S. Marine Corps
Records Tom Lea, An Oral History with Adair Margo.
Establishment of Tom Lea Gallery at El Paso Museum of Art
Rio Grande painting placed in Oval Office of President George W. Bush
Dedication of Tom Lea cenotaph in Texas State Cemetery