Peter Hurd grew up in the small town of Roswell, New Mexico where he attended the New Mexico Military Institute and then spent two years at West Point from 1921 to 1922. Hurd was attracted to much of the life of an Army cadet, as his father had served in the Spanish-American War. Throughout his military schooling, however, Hurd had always found time to sketch and ultimately he was to choose a life of art. After leaving the Army he briefly attended Haverford College, leaving to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, from which he later applied to become a private pupil to N. C. Wyeth.
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Wyeth made it a policy not to take on pupils. But Wyeth, convinced by Hurd's presence and grand spirit of purpose, surprisingly agreed to take the young artist under his wing. From 1924-26 Hurd joined the Wyeth household in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where everyone was talented and work was the honor of the family. There was a great sharing of talent and ideas within the Wyeth household, all of which Hurd soaked up, cultivating his artistic skill, personality and self-realization. Hurd's landscape subjects were the meadows of Chadds Ford with small creeks, old stone barns, wooded hills and views of the Brandywine Valley.
In his second year of apprenticeship, Hurd proposed to Wyeth's oldest child, Henriette. For a period of months before the marriage Hurd returned to New Mexico to live at the house of his parents. In New Mexico he was drawn to the vastness and immensity of the sky and the directness of the light. Away from the influence of Wyeth, Hurd developed a new style of expression, the technique of using gesso as a ground on which to paint with thin washes of oil and then later with tempera. He returned to Chadds Ford to marry Henriette in 1929 and brought this new technique to share with Wyeth and his family.
In the early 1930's Hurd and Henriette lived in a small farmhouse in Chadds Ford and worked all day in their studios in an old schoolhouse, given to them by Wyeth. In the mid-1930's the Hurd family returned to New Mexico, where they found some land in San Patricio, a small village fifty miles west of Roswell where they built studios and other facilities. This section of land was then called Sentinel Ranch. Both The Acequia and The Watering Hole were painted at San Patricio, an irrigated valley with overgrazed hills of classic form and a thread of shallow river, the Ruidoso.
With Hurd's return to New Mexico his paintings rapidly developed. Through his use of tempera and gesso, his depictions of the effects of light on the surrounding landscapes were given a quality of incandescence. At this time Peter Hurd was also interested in lithography, describing in black and white the life and backgrounds of the plains and mountains. In preparation for these studies he took up the habit of making wash drawings, from which he developed gouaches and watercolors. Between 1930 and 1940, when he joined the Federal Arts Projects, Hurd also undertook yet another medium: mural painting. Peter Hurd won commissions to execute murals in the post offices of Big Spring, Texas; Alamogordo, New Mexico; and Dallas, Texas. Later he was commissioned to decorate a grand public room of the New Mexico Military Institute. His regional landscape subjects and realistic execution belonged to the American Scene style of art. National recognition came to Hurd during this period, helped along by a pictorial and biographical essay about the artist that appeared in Life magazine. Hurd exhibited at the Corcoran Galleries' Biennials, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
In 1942 Hurd became a Life artist war-correspondent. The artist was sent to England where he painted the life of Britain at war. In the spring of 1943, awaiting his next assignment, Hurd was in Chadds Ford with his family. During his visit he went with Andrew Wyeth to paint outdoor watercolors for the first time; previously he had been used to working up his drawings into watercolor in the studio. He used this experiment with watercolors in his next assignment for Life in India to record the instant, not the memory, of the war. This gave him great command of the watercolor medium and a new acuity of vision.
After the war and his return to New Mexico, Hurd spent more time painting large watercolors on the spot than ever before. He also continued to paint with tempera on gesso, executing sixteen murals in Lubbock for the Texas Technological College in the 1950's. Peter Hurd died in Roswell in 1984; the municipal museum there houses a rich collection of his work.