Biography of Granville Bruce Undated typed manuscript, no author cited Apparently circa 1982 From the Dallas Museum of Natural History
Granville Bruce came to Texas 58 years ago “afoot and lighthearted” to use Walt Whitman’s phrase. Fresh out of the Chicago Art Institute, Bruce started off on a year-long grand tour of the Southwest, but ran out of money in St. Louis. Thumbing rides and hopping freights, he made it as far as Galveston, Texas before having to look for work and wages. Bruce never completed his tour but went on to establish a successful career in commercial art, illustration, painting and teaching; first in San Antonio, then in Dallas.
“Well, I traveled in various means which I don’t like to tell too much because I did hop some trains. The only reason I had the nerve to do that is my companion at that time was the type that just said “Come on, let’s hop freight.” One of the best modes of transportation I believe I got was from the oil men traveling interstate on their big trucks. They didn’t seem to mind picking up a young man that was on foot, and often as not, he would take me out to a dinner. I’d sometimes go as far as, oh, a hundred miles with those oil trucks. I made pretty good time.”
Bruce eventually arrived in San Antonio where he met a man who changed his life.
“I went out to Breckenridge Park, I don’t remember how I got there, but it’s not very far from downtown San Antonio; out on Pershing and Broadway. There I fixed my pup tent in a tourist camp, which was then called a tourist camp, not a regular lodge. I decided I was going to make a drawing of the Mexican Village there, which I looked awfully interesting to me. There was a basket maker making baskets, and a pottery maker, and there was a whole lot of interesting … It fascinated me because it was beginning to look like the typical Old West and the Spanish and Mexican scenery. I didn’t have any drawing board, I didn’t have any drawing paper or anything, so I managed to get a couple of boards. I think it was 1 x 10 boards or something like that, and I put them together. I laid newspapers on top of the board and I bought me a box of just regular children’s Crayola’s. There I bought a sheet of Strathmore charcoal paper, which was a nickel in those days, the Crayola’s was a nickel. I was making a drawing of the Mexican Village when a tall gentleman with a big, western hat, and he had a Windsor tie on, and boots, tall boots, and I could tell that he was traveling.”
The tall gentleman was the noted painter and teacher, Hugo Pohl, who took Bruce under his wing. Together, they traveled across Texas and New Mexico sketching and painting.
“At that time we had an old Model “T” Ford which Mr. Pohl built into a traveling studio. This studio was composed of a library, a place to sleep, a place to eat. Our library was very extensive, great masters of time. He also had down under the floorboards a place to bathe, you know, take a foot bath, something like that. That’s what he traveled in East to West for several years, and he lived in this traveling studio.”
Bruce helped Pohl build a more permanent studio in San Antonio across from the ostrich pens in the Breckenridge Park Zoo.
“We started building practically from scratch. We took all this old lumber, we built a foundation. We had room just for a studio, a storage room, and a garage.”
We began to get the artistic touches on it like stained glass windows, a skylight window for the studio, and we got a rustic fence put up which, by the way the Park Board put the fence up for us. Our water was just an outside hydrant that was our water supply.”
“…It seemed like everything that got out usually came over tot he studio, for what reason I don’t know. The prairie dogs would crawl under a hole, than come up under the studio floor, because we could hear knock, knock, knock a-digging. First thing we know, we had a prairie dog. Of course they actually entered in the front door and they came in they’d run under our cots. We’d have a hard time getting em out of the studio. We took our broom and swished em out the best we could. We had other animals too, you know, that would get loose there.” Bruce began teaching some art classes and one of his students, Eula Lee Mead, became his wife in 1930. They moved to Dallas where prospects for a commercial art career seemed brighter. It was there that Bruce fulfilled a boyhood dream. Dallas was celebrating Texas’ 100th birthday by building new museums in Fair Park. Bruce was commissioned to do the background for the first diorama in the Natural History Museum. It was a simple snow scene for the Great-horned Owl exhibit. Bruce describes what background painting is like.
“Each group had a definite character and a personality of that particular country, and I had to get that, including the foreground which was going to tie into that background, or should I say the background tie into the foreground. Which means it has to give the effect of looking out into the landscape in as realistic a fashion as possible.”
“First, we had to know the animal, where his habitat was. Then we had to know about the different landscapes, the trees, the brush, everything pertaining to this animal life in that particular area.”
“If it was the Big Thicket, why we’d all jump in the truck and head out for the Big Thicket, or the Big Bend country, or the Hill Country of Central Texas.”
“Well, I’ll have to tell you a little story about the way one of the backgrounds came out. We have to paint the sky so it came out flat, could not be any sheen because if it did the lights shining down on the scene would create a sheen, little spots of sheen. So it had to be painted flat. I remember one background that we made had a awful lot of sheen on it. I think it was maybe because we over brushed it, kept brushing it and brushing it and it created a slight sheen. I heard that a decorator always used Bavarian Buttermilk over his paint to kill any sheen, you know. Of course, nowadays we do have flat mediums that you can paint over. But, we went over that whole thing with Bavarian Buttermilk top to bottom. Of course, it eliminated the sheen. It was a mess, you know, wiping off all that buttermilk.”
Since 1935, Bruce has painted 29 backgrounds for the Dallas Museum of Natural History creating a priceless records of the Texas landscape available for public enjoyment.