Editor's note: The chapter titled "Creating an Iconography for a New State: The Arizona State Capitol Murals," pp 19-32 in the illustrated book titled The Cowboy's Dream: The Mythic Life and Art of Lon Megargee, authored by Betsy Fahlman, © Copyright 2002 by Desert Caballeros Western Museum, was rekeyed and reprinted with permission of Desert Caballeros Western Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay excerpt or would like to obtain a copy of the book, please contact the Desert Caballeros Western Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:


"Creating an Iconography for a New State: The Arizona State Capitol Murals," pp 19-32 in the illustrated book titled The Cowboy's Dream: The Mythic Life and Art of Lon Megargee

by Betsy Fahlman, Ph.D.


It was from his base in California that the artist embarked on the most significant commission of his career. Statehood provided Megargee with the possibility of the big break he had been hoping for, and he was fortunate in Hunt's election to the Governorship. Arizona became the 48th state, following New Mexico into the union, on February 14, 1912. Commissioned to paint fifteen large canvases to be installed in the State Capitol building designed by James Riely Gordon in 1898-1900, Megargee's subjects parallel the iconography of the state seal. The themes chosen broadly summarize Arizona at statehood, encompassing its spectacular landscape and natural wonders, the structures and customs of its indigenous Native American peoples, artifacts of Spanish Colonial settlement, and the agriculture, mining, and ranching which sustained its early settlers. The "five Cs" that are the historic foundation of Arizona's economy -- Copper, Cattle, Citrus, Climate, Cotton are evident in his work. Megargee traveled throughout the state in pursuit of suitable themes.

The monies which made possible this commission were those left over from the process of establishing the new state. When it passed Arizona's Enabling Act, Congress had appropriated the sum of $100,000, which was to cover the expenses of a constitutional convention, a ratification election, and the first general state election. The nearly seven thousand dollars remaining could be utilized "for the general uses of the State of Arizona in whatever manner the Legislature may prescribe."[77]

In later years, Megargee related a rather spontaneous commissioning process: "I came into town looking for work. Although I'd never painted in my life, had no formal art training, and was armed with only a few drawings done on the range,"[78] asserting that "He had never touched oils nor had he seen an artist in action."[79] But in truth he had campaigned assiduously for this commission, which he wanted very much.

Megargee first wrote the governor in early February 1913, enclosing some sketches. His aim was to use typical landscapes and themes of the state to express "the various industries of Arizona in a pictorial, symbolic manner."[80] He assured Hunt:

The finished paintings will be 7 x 4 feet, the sketches are merely to show the ideas I have in mind. I will take great pains to finish the large ones in an artistic manner and will make all studies from typical Arizona landscape and subjects. I will undertake this work for a very moderate commission in fact it will hardly pay me more than a good living at the price I quote. But I am banking on the future benefit the finished pictures will give me in the way of advertising my work before the people of the U.S. If anyone else would undertake the proposition and could do it in a satisfactory way it would cost not less than $1000 apiece. I'm confident that I can do it better than anyone because I know Arizona. Have lived in the big out of doors -- in her mountains and on her deserts nearly all of my life. I'll finish up fifteen panels 7 x 4 feet for $250 apiece, the state to pay one half of the cost of materials, paints, canvas, etc. It will take me seven or eight months to complete the series so the quicker I get action the better. I'll send the balance of the sketches as soon as they are finished and are dry enough.[81]

At this point, Megargee's personal financial resources were stretched to the limit (this would remain his lifelong pattern), but he thought this commission would help make his name:

I hope you'll be able to pull the thing through, it will be the making of me and I'm just at a point where I need it the most, can't hold out much longer if something don't happen. I can and will succeed and all I want is half a chance.[82]

Hunt had high hopes for him too, as he wrote to the artist in March: "I sincerely hope that all your expectations of this canvas will be realized and that it will prove the stepping stone to all that you desire."[83]

Megargee described the broad subject he proposed to depict which would show the "material development and advancement of Arizona."[84] As he observed to the Governor,

I have not worked this sketch out, but I'm going to immediately. [85]

The other fourteen canvases he proposed would depict The Indian, Mining, Stock Raising, Sheep Raising, Irrigation, The Grand Canyon, The Desert, Casa Grande, Roosevelt Dam, Canyon de Chelly, Orange Culture, Clearing Land, The Superstitions, The Painted Desert. Regarding the sketches he had already sent:

I sincerely hope they will grow upon you. In my opinion -- pictures are like good friends -- you'll look at them some time and perhaps realize what I'm striving for. How hard at times it is to accomplish anything worthwhile, but all the same it's worth it -- and the more difficult it is the better I'll do it in the end.[86]

He continued to send Hunt color sketches as he finished them, but after half a dozen, he decided to wait to see if the committee would grant him the commission. Besides, as he wrote, for "the balance of the pictures I'd have to get out and make sketches from nature."[87] Only two of the sketches survive, one for Mining, and the other of the Roosevelt Dam, a subject ultimately not executed. The Governor placed them where they would be seen: "I have added these sketches to the others with a view to securing the attention desired."[88]

The monies remaining from the statehood fund became officially available in October 1912. Discussion ensued as to how to specifically dispose of the sum, and a number of resolutions were made. It was proposed that the funds be used for:

the providing of suitable furnishings and interior adornment of the state capitol, including especially the two legislative chambers, which furnishings would serve as a memorial, both practical and utilitarian, of Arizona's constitutional convention and her subsequent admission to the union.[89]

Hunt favored paintings, so that the capitol might be "furnished in a manner befitting the dignity of the state."[90] One Senator "not being an art expert, objected to the idea of spending so much money for pictures,"[91] suggesting instead that the monies be "used to print several thousand copies of the verbatim report of the constitutional convention."[92] Another legislator proposed new desks and carpeting for the legislative chambers. But the murals prevailed in the end, and the Governor, who had a specific artist in mind, enumerated his reasons for recommending Megargee:

I feel that an especial interest should attach to the plan submitted by Mr. Megargee for the reason that he is a native Arizonan who has passed his life in the deserts and mountains of our state, making a study of those landscapes and topographical features by virtue of which he is able to make his work peculiarly distinctive and true to nature in her Arizona phases.[93]

Hunt mistakenly claimed that Megargee was "the only native Arizona artist to achieve, thus far, favorable notice from the public."[94] In late March 1313, the Legislature began considering House Joint Resolution No. 8, the bill which would authorize Megargee to "furnish the State of Arizona with some paintings."[95] On May 15, Hunt cabled Megargee in Los Angeles: "Federal fund resolution passed Legislature signed by me today. Congratulations."[96] When Megargee learned he had finally been officially awarded the commission, he declared to the governor: "I'll do my best to satisfy your expectations."[97] He wrote Hunt the next day:

Thank you a million times for your steadfast interest and kindness on my behalf. I'll be able now to achieve my ambitions. I have been hard at work on Indian pictures and am going to show them in conjunction with the other Indian painters here soon. I had planned to get away this month about the 15th but owing to a shortage in my bankroll found I'd have to wait.... Now since you have made things come my way I'm anxious to get busy at once. I want to make the Grand Canyon and the Indian country as soon as possible to get my sketches for the panels. If you could advance me five or six hundred on account, I'd be able to do it. I want to give the very best endeavor I am possible of in regard to turning out a work of art. I have improved with every picture lately and my confidence is unlimited. I never worry about the little things and never get discouraged there is too much at stake and I'm only too glad to be able to continue my painting under any conditions. It's going to cost me quite a bit for models, trips and other things in connection with the work and it will take about a year to finish all the panels but I'll get some advertising that will be of great value beside being paid for my time. Let me know what you can do in regard to ready cash and how much can I have advanced or will I have to borrow and pay interest, etc.[98]

Hunt's reply was measured, and he cautioned the artist that before proceeding that it would be necessary for him to secure the proper paperwork from the State Board of Control: "This Contract, undoubtedly, will have to be very carefully drawn and will have to specify in detail just what will be expected of both parties thereto."[99] The board had not yet met, and Hunt suggested to the artist:

It might be advisable, therefore, for you to come to Arizona, if you can afford to, at your earliest convenience, and present your proposal to the Board of Control, which would then be enabled to act advisedly on the matter. Your presence here would doubtless be of assistance to the Board in making a contract suitable to both parties by which the manner of preparation and the delivery of the paintings would be prescribed.[100]

To support his summer work in northern Arizona, Hunt suggested Megargee negotiate a bank loan, which would be facilitated by his signed contract "on which to base your application for an advancement of money."[101] Monies for the project were finally available early in August, and Hunt reported the good financial news to the artist:

The balance of the Federal Fund in my possession was turned over to the Board of Control several days ago; therefore, the Bank may present your note for cancellation at any time, and the balance due you may be put to your credit as you request.[102]

Megargee, chronically short of cash, had been anxiously awaiting the funds: "Would appreciate prompt settlement. Every day means idleness and needless expense. Departure depends on amount due to meet expenses of trip."[103] The delay was due to several state officials who needed to inspect and approve the paintings being out of town.

Hunt wrote a letter to George Babbitt in Flagstaff, introducing him to:

the only living artist of note who is a native of Arizona. Mr. Megargee has obtained a contract from the Board of Control for the preparation of a large series of paintings which will, on completion, serve as interior decorations of the Capitol building. He will spend the coming summer in your County and adjacent sections engaging, in the meantime, in fulfilling his contract for the paintings typical of this state. I hope that you will do what you can to assist him getting suitably located in his new surroundings. Any courtesies shown him by you will be appreciated.[104]

Later, on 24 June, Megargee wrote to Hunt:

I've been so busy, I've had no time to write you before this. I am working on the panels. There are two or three I can do here much better than in the wilds. I have almost finished 'Arizona.' It is quite a task and I've put lots of sincere effort into it. I though best to do it here where I could get the best models to pose for the figures in it, am also working on the 'Mining.' I hope to be able to send it to you within a week. As soon as I can get them finished I leave for Northern Arizona. I surely feel like working and plug away from six A.M. until seven P.M. I find the only way to accomplish anything is to work, work, all the time.[105]

Hunt was glad to hear of the progress of the paintings: "It is a source of great satisfaction to me personally to feel that you are working so faithfully to fulfill your contract, and I feel confident that the results cannot be other than good. ... The fulfillment of this contract should help make the reputation for which you are striving."[106]

Megargee was grateful for the work: "I want to thank you for your interest in me. There are times when a fellow needs a friend and you surely have proven your friendship for me."[107] He wrote Hunt:

While I have averaged so far two panels a month I won't be able to keep this up once I get started on my trips. I'll try to send at least one. I've been waiting here for a shipment of canvas that I ordered ... I haven't started any more because I haven't been able to get the special canvas here and I thought I'd wait until I got located again.[108]

Megargee's fifteen pictures comprised subjects that were "all typical of Arizona,"[109] and he was to receive $250 for each painting, for a total of $3750. The cost of materials would be split between the artist and the state, and he intended to use both horizontal and vertical formats for his large decorative panels. The local papers celebrated the fact that there would be "Art Galore for Capitol,"[110] pictured in a series that would "portray the transformation of Arizona from a desert to a region of fertile farms and rich mines."[111]

Once the commission was secured, Megargee remained in his studio in Los Angeles, sending the paintings to the capitol as he completed them. Their steady arrival, which began in July 1313, was noted in the press, and all were completed by June 1914. Some record specific state icons, others are allegorical, replete with state
symbols, and the Governor was pleased with these works, so "representative of Arizona topography and life."

Mining is the transformative industry of the American West, and Arizona's central role in this enterprise since the nineteenth century resulted in its nickname, "The Copper State." Boom towns and ghost towns are central parts of this imaginative history. Many artists were inspired to depict such extractive endeavors, which often took place against the sublime landscape of Manifest Destiny. The image of the lone prospector dreaming of untold riches is as an indelible a part of the myth of the West, as is the cowboy, exemplified by Megargee's Prospector's Dream (private collection). An aging prospector with his pick, shovel, and burdened burrow is one of the most resonant emblems of a state indelibly identified with mining, and appropriately it was the first painting finished for the capitol. Mining: The Prospector, "done in numerous attractive colors,"[113] was installed in the Governor's office, as would several of the others when they arrived.

The Governor reported that the first painting had been admired by the many people who had visited his office. Hunt advised:

Personally I am very much pleased with the fine quality of your painting. If you are successful in maintaining the same degree of excellence in the other art works provided for by your contract, you surely will have done a great deal to upbuild the artist's reputation for which you are striving. If I were you I would spare no time or effort in making the fulfillment of this contract a supreme endeavor, for I feel that you will thereby gain many times the advantage held forth by the financial consideration mentioned in your agreement. You will realize that I have a very keen personal interest in this matter, and you will know, therefore, just how gratifying it is to me to hear the earnest commendation given to the first painting of your series.[114]

Megargee's next canvas, entitled The Spirit of Arizona, was broadly allegorical: "It represents the passing away of the cowboy and Indian, and the arrival of goddesses with their arms laden down with orange trees and grains."[115] On a preliminary sketch, which expanded one he had originally proposed be titled "Orange Culture," he noted that:

It will show a joyous procession of young people (symbol of the new State) laden with the products of the soil; some carrying cotton, oranges, sheaves of wheat, etc. etc. All their faces lighted up with hope and joy; the colorful rays of the Arizona atmosphere enveloping them. In the distance will be the orange groves, the alfalfa fields, the mountains. The whole picture will spell Arizona.[116]

The artist further outlined his ideas in a letter to the governor a few months later:

The figures in the foreground represent the advancement and progress of the new state, the advancing of the newer and more productive civilization, as it were. The figures of the cowman and the Indian are types that are fast disappearing and are symbolic of the older civilization and types that are being crowded out by the stride of development and industry, also symbolic of the younger generation. The suggestion of orange trees denote cultivation and reclamation, while the Camelback Mountain, the cactus and desert are typical of that part of nature that remains as yet untouched by man. The whole idea conveys ... the spirit of progress of the new state. [117]

The optimistic Progressive Era theme of the painting is echoed by the words to the "Arizona March Song," the state's official anthem. Written in 1915, it was adopted in 1919:

Come to the Land of sunshine
To this land where life is young.
Where the wide, wide world is waiting,
The songs that will now be sung.
Where the golden sun is flaming
Into warm, white, shining day,
And the sons of men are blazing
Their priceless right of way.

Its boosterish tone evokes a poem by Alvin K. Stabler (1869-1916) entitled "The Arizona Spirit":

Spirit of this great, new state!
The broods o'er man and land,
That's of the mountains, wild and wide,
The desert, and the clear blue dome above
Spirit of this great, new state!
Free and unhampered by the past,
That looks the future in the face
And grasps its possibilities--
Spirit of this great, new state!
That bounds forth to its task,
That conquers forces that oppose
And makes them captive to its ends--
Spirit of this great, new state!
That dreams an empire just beyond,
That dares and does and never halts
At difficulties how-er great--
Spirit of this great, new state!
Rev'ling in the strength of youth
And dreaming dreams of wealth,
With ne'er a thought of failure--
Spirit of this great, new state!
The mountains, desert, and the streams
Will bow to thee, their conqueror,
And out of the sands and barren hills
Will rise an empire, worthy, great,
Rich and commanding, and a joy--
Spirit of this great, new state![118]

Although derived from a long art historical tradition of edenic Golden Age paintings, its imagery was closely linked with development initiatives of the new state. Arcadia was a tract of 250 acres, then outside of the city limits of Phoenix that had been purchased for $250,000 to be developed into "exclusive suburban estates."[119] Its literal arcadian image was promoted in the Arizona Republican in 1924:

In all the world, there's only one Arcadia, where frost never comes. Once a dream of far-sighted men -- now a
reality. You can pick ripe oranges, grapefruit, lemons, peas, tomatoes, and blooming roses in Arcadia today.[120]

With the first two paintings, Megargee's inexperience in working on such a large scale led him to seek advice from Hernando Gonzallo Villa (1881-1952), a Los Angeles artist with whom he shared a studio on the top floor of the Blanchard Building. Although only a few years older than Megargee, Villa had graduated from the Los Angeles School of Art and Design in 1905, and for the next forty years pursued a successful career as a commercial artist and illustrator. His mural, Allegory of Transportation, was shown at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, where it won a Gold Medal. it was the more experienced Villa who helped Megargee with the first few canvases for $100 apiece. Lon recalled that he primed the canvases and sketched the composition, then "he cleaned the brushes while Nando slapped on the paint."[121]

By the time he commenced the third, he felt confident enough to work by himself. Entitled The Spirit of Irrigation, "It shows an irrigation ditch surrounded by fertile fields and in the rear a mountain range."[122] The artist described it to Hunt:

The form of a young girl draped and pouring water from an Indian jar onto the soil that, in return, sends the refreshing green of alfalfa into the sunlight, a suggestion of trees in the background lends itself to the idea of cultivation, while the ditch of water and the lands of alfalfa in the foreground add to it. Granite Reef Mountain is in the far distance to help out the decorative effect, the figure is impressive, I think carries out my idea very well [123]

She embodied the optimistic words from the chorus to the state song:

Sing the song that's in your hearts
Sing of the great Southwest,
Thank God for Arizona
In splendid sunshine dressed.
For thy beauty and thy grandeur,
For thy regal robes so sheen
We hail thee Arizona
Our goddess and our queen.

Megargee labored hard to finish the work as quickly as possible:

I am working on four. I hope to have the others finished by the 15th. I've worked every minute since my return here and by having the sketches ready and everything to hand I've been able to go right ahead with the first four. Where I lose time is when I have to make special trips to get my sketches, etc. My object in getting the thing started was to pay off the $600 I owe the bank and 1 can do it and have it off my mind I hope before I go into the Indian country.[124]

The state's impressive landscape features inspired several of the capitol paintings, including the fourth to be completed, The Canyon de Chelly, in which he pictured a sandstone obelisk:

formation that towers into the air 1500 feet or more. The Indians in the dry wash give the stupendous comparison of its size, the wind always blows through the canyon whirling clouds of sand here and there. This is one of the many wonderful scenic features of Arizona. [125]

Several Navajo Indians are riding in the dry canyon bed. Since Thomas Moran's magisterial rendering, the Grand Canyon has challenged many painters, providing Megargee with a long pictorial heritage on which to draw. Basing himself in Williams, he planned to remain until the picture was finished. He hoped also to purchase a Ford Runabout "as soon as I get enough money ahead, so I can get around from place to place more conveniently. I think it will pay me in the long run saving car fare and transportation expenses."[126] Given that the first four had been well received, he must have been surprised that when the Grand Canyon was presented to the Board of Control for approval, it was "unanimously rejected."[127] Not until the artist applied some "additional touches;"[128] was it accepted. The changes could not have been too time-consuming, for they were completed in a month. A single draped figure stands on a ledge at sunset contemplating the magnificent view.

Several of his canvases explored Native American themes, and his regular visits to the Hopi and Navajo reservations had provided him with a rich source of subject matter, as seen in Hopi Boomerang Throwers. It is one of the canvases he had originally proposed be titled The Indian, but he must have changed his mind about a single figure in favor of a large group composition, writing Hunt, "I'd like to give you some good action stuff."[129] The subject chosen, he noted, was one:

that is not generally known and some stirring incident that happens to those who ride the range. I want to make my efforts different from the conventional stuff that is turned out and I strive to make each one as different from the others as possible.[130]

W. R. Leigh had painted a dramatic version of this same theme in 1913 (Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe). Hopi Boomerang Throwers had as much action as he had hoped, and the scene is set in the afterglow of the sunset:

This latest picture depicts two Hopi Indians on horseback, hunting rabbits with boomerang sticks. A jackrabbit is leaping from the desert and one Indian has brought his pony up short, at the same time bending to throw his stick. The whole scene is wonderfully realistic. The muscles of the horses stand out and one involuntarily brushes away the dust raised by the feet of the steeds. That the Hopi are quite expert with boomerangs is a fact little known. They do not attain the proficiency of the Australian savages with those weapons, but use them a great deal in hunting small game.[131]

One mural, The Snake Dance, depicts the most photographed Native American ceremony between the 1890s and teens, a scene that was also depicted by many painters.[132] Megargee's canvas was executed at the height of its fascination among Anglo visitors. By 1915 photography had been banned by the Hopi and by the 1920s, efforts by the Federal government to end the ceremony had waned, though it remained a tourist staple. His scene is comprised of dancers with their reptiles, ancient pueblo structures, and the many observers who characteristically showed up to witness the conclusion to more than a week of dances, the first portions of which were conducted in private.

Megargee had hoped to attend the dance in the summer of 1913 with the Governor, who himself had never been to the famous event, but was unable to make it: "I'm getting started so late that I don't know whether I'll be able to get there on time. The show comes off about the middle of this month."[133] Hunt informed him: "Relative to the Snake Dance, I have been informed that will take place on the 21st instant. Perhaps you will yet be able to arrange your affairs so you may get there."[134] In the end Megargee was unable to get his finances in order, and disappointedly wrote he had "no way to get there except by a long roundabout way from Holbrook."[135] He missed the chance to meet a notable friend of Hunt's, who was accompanied by Theodore Roosevelt to the ceremony.

Images of the ceremony were readily available, and Megargee was able to continue his work, despite his not having been able to go to Walpi that year. In April 1914, Hunt wrote to Megargee: "I am pleased to hear that you are doing your utmost on the balance of the pictures, especially the one of the Snake Dance. I feel that will be the one that will cause more attention than the rest and I wish you the best of success."[136]

Also in September, Megargee sent Stock Raising. Renderings of both "Sheep Raising" and Stock Raising had been proposed as part of his cycle of paintings, but only the latter was executed. The image of cowboys on horseback energetically galloping to lasso cattle in the chaparral of the high Arizona desert offered more drama to the artist than did the more placidly paced activities of the shepherd. A monsoon cloud balloons above the action.

With more than half of the canvases done, Megargee contemplated the rest of his series, writing to Hunt in September: "I feel moved to make a suggestion in regard to substituting something else for the Roosevelt Dam picture."[137] He was given permission to replace it with one of the San Francisco Peaks. He had been inspired by a recent camping trip:

From where I am camped I have the most sublime view of the San Francisco Mountains. It is a subject worthy of putting on canvas, the most wonderful afterglow that seems to radiate from them as the last rays of the sun hit the mountains, all the country below is in shadow with here and there a spot of light, enough to make a grand contrast. From a pictorial standpoint, the motive is much better than would be the Dam. It would also show the timber resources that would not be shown in other panels.[138]

Money was always a pressing topic for an artist perennially short of cash. By the conditions set in his contract, he was to be paid each time he sent a painting (subject to approval), but having fulfilled more than half of the commission, and frustrated by the delays between receipt of his canvases and payment, he now requested a regular stipend as he finished the rest: "I'd appreciate it very much if possible to have a monthly settlement same as the other employees of the state if not too much trouble."[139] The state, bound by its financial regulations, could not grant his request. In any event, he was not one to be trusted with money on work not yet executed.

The remaining canvases, which were regularly dispatched to Phoenix, were completed with fewer letters and newspaper accounts. By April 1914, Hunt could observe: "I also note that you will soon have the remaining panels finished for the State."[140] For The Painted Desert, in which "tree bits and stumps lead a viewer's eye into the background"[141] Megargee humorously suggested an alternative title: "Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife."[142] In Petrified Forest pieces of ossified prehistoric wood, which the legislature would vote the state fossil in 1988, are littered about. For another canvas, The Superstitions, he made studies on site, recording a desert scene with cacti against a mountainous backdrop.

Early in November 1913, Megargee wrote to Hunt about a trip he had recently made to the ruins at Casa Grande: "Just returned from a horseback ride out to the ruins, they have spoiled the pictorial part by putting on that hideous roof. I'll take it off in the painting. Just as appropriate as a pug hat on an Indian."[143] In Casa Grande Ruins, a coyote ambles through the sagebrush towards what was then thought to be the oldest house in America. He made at least one other version. Cliff Dwellings, one of two he set in the Canyon de Chelly, records the famous aerial residences. His San Xavier Mission pictures the state's most important artifact of the Spanish colonial era.

Overall, his series was well received: "Megargee has spent a lot of time on the deserts of Arizona and has the faculty of putting the colors of the Arizona atmosphere to canvas that is hard to equal."[144] Arizona writers were patriotically enthusiastic in their praise, as was one whose observations appeared in the Tombstone Prospector:

Megargee uses color with a boldness that astonishes more conservative painters, but no one can deny that the colors are all in the subjects he paints. Northern Arizona scenery, cowboys and Indians are his delight. His work has a faithfulness to life and nature which even Frederic Remington never approached.[145]

As a new state, Arizona was poised to play a major role in the development of the West, and its leading citizenry desired to participate in the progress and prosperity they anticipated, as well as to attract investors. The Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco (1915), and to a lesser extent the more regionally oriented Panama-California Exposition in San Diego (1915-16), were regarded as a significant opportunity to display the promise of Arizona. Other states were sending exhibitions and if Arizona did the same it was predicted:

she can demonstrate fully what she can offer to the world in the way of opportunity. The West is the theatre in which the world's next drama of progress and development will be played ... Will she take her place before the footlights of the world's attention? The West is waiting for Arizona's answer.[146]

Even before the commission was official, Megargee and Hunt shared the hope that the canvases would be displayed in the proposed Arizona building at the exposition:

I have placed the several paintings which you sent to me to illustrate the work, which you are contemplating, in my office, so that any of my callers who may be interested in your plans may inspect them. I anticipate furthermore taking this matter up through the newspapers, as far as possible, and through the Commissioners charged with making arrangements for Arizona's participation in the big fair. When you have finished the pictures which you are contemplating as part of the proposed design I will endeavor to have them framed and placed in my office for inspection. Although, of course, I cannot predict what action, if any, will be taken regarding this matter, I hope at least to see that your work gets favorable notice and that from the idea which you have outlined some good to you may result in the form of favorable advertising, so that whatever the outcome may be your work in connection shall not have been wholly in vain.[147]

Certainly the theme of the fair, which welcomed visitors with "Peace I offer you, and Plenty, and Harmony, and Beauty. Here you are safe, and here you are welcome,"[148] coupled with its theme of the promotion of "the agricultural and industrial development of the American Southwest,"[149] would have fit nicely with the aims of Arizona as depicted in Megargee's paintings. But preoccupied with getting a new state established and lacking in funds, no monies for this purpose were appropriated.

His work received further exposure through the decorative arts. The battleship USS Arizona was launched in June 1915. In 1916 a set of 87 silver pieces, some with native copper plating, were commissioned from Reed and Barton of Taunton, Massachusetts, at a cost of nearly $3000. Two of Megargee's paintings, Irrigation: The Wedding of the Water and Land and Arizona: Progress and Civilization were engraved on a pair of large footed compotes, deepening the symbolic content of his murals. Many of the other subjects he depicted in his murals were also featured, though not based on his designs.


77. Arizona Legislative Journal, 15 March 1913: 206. The exact sum was $6950.72 .

78. Cutts, Point West: 21.

79. Ball, "LM -- Maverick Painter," 70.

80. LM to Hunt, 5 February 1913.

81. LM to Hunt, 5 February, 1913.

82. LM to Hunt, 11 March 1913.

83. Hunt to LM, 21 March 1913.

84. LM to Hunt, 5 February, 1913.

85. LM to Hunt, 5 February, 1913.

86. LM to Hunt, 5 February, 1913.

87. LM to Hunt, 25 February 1913.

88. Hunt to LM, 27 February 1913.

89. Joint House Resolution No. 1, approved 15 May 1913. Session Laws of Arizona, Third Special Session, First Legislature of the State of Arizona, pp. 59-61.

90. "Decoration and Re-Furnishing," Arizona Gazette, 17 March 1913.

91. "Art Galore for Capitol," Arizona Republic/Republican, 28 May 1913.

92. "Art Galore for Capitol," Arizona Republic/Republican, 28 May 1913.

93. "Decoration and Re-Furnishing," Arizona Gazette, 17 March 1913.

94. "Decoration and Re-Furnishing," Arizona Gazette, 17 March 1913.

95. Hunt to LM, 28 March 1913.

96. Hunt to LM, 15 May 1913.

97. LM to Hunt, undated letter of 1913.

98. LM to Hunt, 16 May 1913.

99. Hunt to LM, 21 May 1913.

100. Hunt to LM, 21 May 1913.

101. Hunt to LM, 21 May 1313.

102. Hunt to LM, 4 August 1913.

103. Telegram, LM to Hunt, 9 August 1913.

104. Hunt to George Babbitt, 6 June 1913.

105. LM to Hunt, 24 June 1313.

106. Hunt to LM, 1 July 1913.

107. LM to Hunt, 5 February 1913.

108. LM to Hunt, 2/13,

109 "Megargee's First Picture," Arizona Gazette 8 July 1313.

110. "Art Galore for Capitol," Arizona Republican, 28 May 1913.

111. A second artist, William Vincent Besser, was commissioned to paint portraits of sixteen former Arizona governors, the two speakers of the state legislature, and the president of the Senate, for $100 apiece. It was reported that Besser was "residing in Phoenix for the benefit of his health." ("Decoration and Re-Furnishing," Arizona Gazette 17 March 1913.)

112. Hunt to LM, 22 July 1913.

113. "Megargee's First Picture," Arizona Gazette, 8 July 1913.

114. Hunt to LM, 9 July 1913.

115. "Second Painting," Arizona Gazette, 14 July 1913.

116. LM to Hunt, 5 February 1913.

117. LM to Hunt, 9 July 1913.

118. Mary G. Boyer, Arizona in Literature (Glendale, CA: Arthur H. Clark, Co., 1935): 314-315.

119. "In All the World There's Only One Arcadia," Arizona Republic/Republican, 28 December 1924.

120. "In All the World There's Only One Arcadia," Arizona Republic/Republican 28 December 1924.

121. Ball, "LM--Maverick Painter," 70.

122. "Third Painting," Arizona Gazette 24 July 1913.

123. LM to Hunt, 3 July 1913.

124. LM to Hunt, 7 July 1913. Megargee also suggested to Hunt that he handle ordering the frames for his paintings as well as the Besser portraits: "I can make a little commission for myself and get them way below the usual discount thereby saving the state quite a few dollars." He offered to show Hunt a sample of the handmade frames he had in mind on one of his own pictures. When first installed in the Capitol, they were put temporarily in dark brown wooden frames (Hunt to LM, 5 November 1913). Hunt said the matter would have to be taken up by the Board of Control and suggested the artist send a sample.

125. LM to Hunt, 21 July 1913.

126. LM to Hunt, 15 September 1913.

127. Board of Control Minutes, 12 November 1912, Record Book No. 3, p. 469. The painting was accepted at the 11 December meeting.

128. "Board of Control Accepts Paintings," Arizona Gazette, 12 December 1913.

129. LM to Hunt, 21 July 1313.

130. LM to Hunt, 21 July 1913.

131. "Megargee Sends Another Picture," Arizona Gazette 17 September 1913.

132. The work is reproduced in Clark Wissler, Constance Lindsay Skinner, and William Wood. Adventurers in the Wilderness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1925. The Pageant of America, vol. L): 63.

133. LM to Hunt, 5 August 1913.

134. Hunt to LM, 9 August 1913.

135. LM to Hunt, 15 September 1913.

136. Hunt to LM, 7 April 1914.

137. LM to Hunt, 18 September 1913.

138. LM to Hunt, 18 September 1913.

139. LM to Hunt, 20 October 1913.

140. Hunt to LM, 7 April 1914.

141. The Panama-Pacific Exposition, held in San Francisco in 1915, had an exhibit called "The Painted Desert." Financed by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, it consisted of "several pueblos constructed by members of southwestern Indian tribes under the supervision of Fred Harvey -- stood out as an ethnological colony par excellence." Robert W. Rydell, All the World's a Fair: (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984): 230.

142. LM to Hunt, from the Grand Canyon Hotel, Williams, [c. 20 October], 1913,

143. LM to Hunt, 8 November 1913.

144. "Art Galore for Capitol," Arizona Republic/Republican, 28 May 1913.

145. "News and Views From the Capitol of Arizona," Tombstone Prospector, 26 March 1914.

146. "San Diego is Hustling: Southern California Preparing a Big Show for 1915 Homeseekers," Arizona: The New State Magazine 3 (March 1913): 13.

147. Hunt to LM, 13 February 1913.

148. Quoted in Rydell, All the World's a Fair: 209.

149. Rydell, All the World's a Fair: 214.


About the author

Dr. Betsy Fahlman is Professor of Art History at the ASU School of Art, Tempe, AZ.


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