Born in 1904, Peter Hurd, a native of New Mexico, ventured from his home state in 1921 to attend West Point, but resigned two years later to study art instead. In 1924, after attending Haverford College, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts while concurrently a pupil of the renowned illustrator N.C. Wyeth at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Five years later, Hurd became a member of the Wyeth family when he married his mentor’s daughter Henriette in 1929. The Hurd couple, both artists, lived on at Chadds Ford until 1934, at which time they settled in San Patricio, New Mexico.
During the Great Depression era, like many of his peers, Hurd joined the New Deal art projects to execute several post office murals in locations such as Dallas and Big Spring, Texas and Alamogordo, New Mexico. Later, in 1953-54, he painted mural panels for the rotunda of The Museum (now Holden Hall) on the campus of Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) in Lubbock. In 1942, stationed with the Eight Air Force in England, Hurd worked as a war correspondent for Life magazine and traveled extensively recording the events of WWII. Afterwards, under appointment by President Eisenhower, the artist served as a member of the Fine Arts Commission in Washington, D.C. from 1959-1963.
Although often branded a "western" painter or a "cowboy artist," Hurd’s work most closely aligns with the American scene painters, or Regionalists. Commonly associated with artists Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry, Regionalists were interested in representing the American experience and were outspoken in their criticism of formal abstraction. From his early training with Wyeth, Hurd remained devoted to representing the personal experience in a realistic (versus abstract) manner. In a magazine interview in 1939, Hurd articulated his philosophy of art:
As for my philosophy of art, my credo is a simple one. It is to live just as intensely as possible, to keep my perceptions at a peak of sensitivity and to try to realize the fullest every moment of consciousness.
Another artist to whom Hurd felt indebted was Santa Fe painter Theodore Van Soelen (1890-1964). Both artists studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, both trained and worked as illustrators, and both worked with subjects of ranch life and New Mexican culture. Hurd credits Van Soelen for his admission to the National Academy, where he was elected a National Academician in 1942. Above all else, the young artist cites Van Soelen as an early inspiration of his landscapes, taking note of the artist’s handling of light, texture, color, and the shifting moods of weather.
Hurd’s work reflects a deep emotional attachment to his environment, with a career dominated by landscapes of New Mexico. Among his work, however, are portraits of his neighbors and ranch hands, one of which won him the Watson F. Blair Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1937. By the early 1950s, Hurd was producing portraits for the cover of Time magazine. In 1966, the artist completed a commissioned official White House portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Despite his success in the fields of watercolor and lithograph, Hurd’s reputation as an artist rests on his work in egg tempera. Popular during the Renaissance, tempera is fast-drying and allows for great precision of brushstrokes. With its smooth, matte finish, tempera provides a complete flatness of color and surface that contributed to the airy glow of Hurd’s work, enabling him to better capture the light of his environment. By his death in 1984, Peter Hurd had earned the distinction as one of the outstanding painters of the Southwest.