Hurd, Peter (1904–1984)

By: Robert Metzger

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1995

Peter Hurd, painter, son of Harold and Lucy Chew (Knight) Hurd, was born in Roswell, New Mexico, on February 22, 1904. His parents named him Harold Hurd, Jr., but called him Pete, and in his early twenties he legally changed his name to Peter. The elder Hurd came from a prominent Boston family, graduated from Columbia University Law School, and established his legal practice in New York City, but abandoned it to serve in the Spanish-American War as a naval volunteer aboard the armed transport Yankee. A Hurd had fought in every American war, beginning with the French and Indian War. Peter Hurd grew up in Roswell, where his parents settled for health reasons. He studied the United States Cavalry Drill Manual at eleven and learned from his father, a first lieutenant in Battery A of the New Mexico National Guard, how to shoot. Following three years of high school at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, Hurd was accepted as a cadet by the United States Military Academy at West Point. He entered as a plebe in July 1921, at the age of seventeen. Within two years, however, he was disillusioned by the rigors and values of military life and was drawn increasingly to art. In 1923 he resigned from West Point in good standing, with his father's reluctant consent. He transferred to Haverford College, where he studied the liberal arts and devoted himself to painting. In December 1923, in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Hurd became acquainted with N. C. Wyeth, an illustrator of children's classics. He persuaded Wyeth to accept him as a pupil in the spring of 1924. Hurd soon fell in love with Wyeth's eldest daughter, Henriette, herself an excellent painter. In June 1929 they married.

Hurd first attained national fame in the late 1930s, and over the next four decades he earned many awards and distinctions. He served as a war-correspondent artist of Life magazine during World War II and received the European Theater Medal for Service Overseas in 1947. In 1959 he was appointed to the Commission on Fine Arts by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and in 1966 he painted the official portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson; it now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. Hurd's art has been exhibited in museums throughout the country and is part of many permanent collections. He worked in a variety of media, including oil, lithography, watercolor, egg tempera, charcoal, and fresco. The most notable of his mural paintings depicting the history of southwestern life can be seen in Lubbock, Dallas, and Big Spring, Texas. Hurd achieved the best expression of his personal vision in the tempera paintings of the place he loved best-the small village of San Patricio, New Mexico, fifty miles west of Roswell, where he built Sentinel Ranch in the 1930s. Painting on panels covered with several coats of gesso, Hurd captured the drama of light and shadow on the hills and the vastness of sky and plain in every kind of weather.

He published a variety of magazine articles, not only on art but on other subjects ranging from polo (he was an outstanding horseman) to soil and land conservation, an issue to which he was passionately committed. In a life of painting, ranching, farming, polo playing, and other pursuits, the Hurds brought up three children who achieved distinction in the arts. Hurd died on July 9, 1984, not far from his birthplace in Roswell.

Paul Horgan, Peter Hurd: A Portrait Sketch from Life (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). Peter Hurd, Peter Hurd: The Lithographs (Lubbock: Baker Gallery, 1968). Peter Hurd, Peter Hurd: Sketch Book (Chicago: Swallow, 1971). Robert Metzger, My Land is the Southwest: Peter Hurd Letters and Journals (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1983).
  • Visual Arts
  • Painting
  • Printmaking

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert Metzger, “Hurd, Peter,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 11, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995