Local artists captured history in paintings

Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

Back in 1969, an artist in Clovis figured it was about time to paint pictures of old historical buildings, scenes, and the pioneers of the old days.

The artist who came up with this idea was Virginia Posey Gregory. With help from Willie Fe Hester, another fine artist, the modest but earnest recording Clovis and Curry County history through art began. Any subject older than 1935 was considered historical.

When the project became overwhelming, the two ladies got sponsorship from the newly organized Clovis-Portales Arts Council, which was formed to promote the cultural arts of the two communities.

First thing you know, the Art Council formed the Clovis Historical Committee with Gregory as chairman. On the committee were Harold O. Gore, Willie Fe Hester, and Don McAlavy, an artist who, just a few months earlier, was elected president of the arts council.

The artists in Clovis painted any subject they liked, in any size, in any medium: paintings, watercolors or drawings.
Then came the idea to publish a portfolio. The artworks were to be reproduced in sepia tones on heavy, white paper measuring 11x 14 inches. A folder cover was created, the color of goldenrod, with a pocket to hold the reproductions.

A select committee, with no prejudice, voted and chose 20 of the 53 paintings for inclusion in the portfolio. The selection aimed to keep the portfolio art project’s cost down. Not that the others lacked for historic or artistic value; quite the contrary. The same subjects were duplicated in many of the works, but cost-control was the main factor in limiting this edition to 20.

The 20 paintings selected were: Old Santa Fe Harvey House, old Clovis National Bank, old senior Hospitality House, old pioneer dugout, old First Baptist Church, old Santa Fe Hospital, a working 1918 Steam Thrasher, old Clovis High School, old Ranchvale school, old Baptist Hospital, a Motel T, a Mule team, old dugout school, early branding scene, Slaughter Murray Confectionery, a chuck wagon, the Cyrus K. Holliday No. 1 Santa Fe locomotive, and paintings of Bill Duckworth, Eugene Hardwick, and Clayton Reed.

The artists were Mary Lee Garrett, Laura McMillin, Carolyn Skarda, Leona Head, Mary Lena Burke, Merle Doose, Dr. Dean Merritt, Lucille Bennett, Mary Burns McKinney, Francis M. Crane, Ginny Seifert, Nan Hendricks, Dollie Herington, Katheryn Williams, Joanne Waldhauser Nuckols, Virginia Posey Gregory, Willie Fe Hester, and Don McAlavy. Two of the artists produced two paintings. Yes, some of the paintings were purchased too.

On August 30, 1970, a Sunday, the original paintings and portfolios were ready for public display and purchase at the lobby of the First National Bank in the 700 block of Pile.
The artists were present to sign the portfolios. Seems like there were 200 copies made. All but a handful were sold for $4.50 each.

The day after the successful exhibit and sale, Bill Southard, editor of the Clovis News Journal, reported in his “Notes from the Editor” column that “Don McAlavy was smiling from ear to ear, over the turnout of people that came to see the exhibit of paintings and the portfolios. Chamber manager Bob Spencer, probably as much of an authority at judging crowds as anyone, figured there may have been as many as 3,000 people out for the showing.”

Later, when Clovis got around to creating a museum, a few of the portfolios were encased there. Today, one of these portfolios will cost $100 or more.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: