Known best for his later work on natural history diorama and scenes of historic Texas architectural subjects, Granville Bruce (1903-1989) excelled as a draftsmen in Texas. A native of Grand Island, Nebraska, he was raised in Milwaukee, where he attended the Layton School of Art. Bruce also studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to Texas in 1924.
In San Antonio he studied with Hugo Pohl in the late 1920s and they built a studio in San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park near the zoo. From his base in the park Bruce produced beautiful sketches in pencil and charcoal of historic sites and genre scenes around San Antonio and nearby towns such as Goliad; using the sketches throughout his career. Bruce and Pohl took sketching trips to other parts of Texas and the Southwest in a converted Model-T, traveling through West Texas, El Paso, and north through Santa Fe to Taos in 1927, for example. Bruce submitted a painting to the 1929 San Antonio Competitive Exhibition (“Davis Competition”)and had a solo exhibition at the Witte Museum in San Antonio about 1930.
In 1930, Bruce married Ula Lee Mead, the sister of fellow artist and Pohl student Ben Carlton Mead, and the couple moved to Dallas. There Bruce did illustrations for Holland’s Magazine, Progressive Farmer, and other popular magazines. He also illustrated several books on Western history, including J. Wright Mooar’s Buffalo Days and Westmoreland Gray’s Aces Back to Back. In addition, under the President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal Bruce painted Public Works of Art project murals for at least two (and possibly four) Texas high schools, Dallas Sunset and Corsicana. Meanwhile, he continued easel painting, exhibiting at the Dallas Allied Arts in 1932 and the State Fair of Texas in 1934.
In the mid 1930s, Bruce found work painting diorama backgrounds for the Dallas Museum of Natural History, a partnership that lasted for almost fifty years. About 1963, Bruce was commissioned to paint watercolors of six Texas missions, which Governor John Connally presented to the Texas State Library in 1965. At about the same time, the Texas State Fish and Game Commission commissioned Bruce to paint a 68-foot panoramic mural, showing the landscape of Texas across the state, for the John H. Reagan Building in Austin. In his later career, Bruce painted a number of cityscapes and architectural projects in the Dallas area and created large-scale historical re-creation paintings.
Bruce moved to Irving, Texas, about 1950, then to Sanger in 1987. The Dallas Museum of Natural History hosted Bruce’s last major exhibition in 1982 when he was featured in Southwest Art magazine.
Granville Bruce did not intend to stay in Texas when he visited San Antonio, planning instead to travel west to California and the Pacific Northwest. However, he was smitten by the Lone Star State almost immediately and “Old Texas” remained Bruce’s favorite subject throughout his career. “I love this state,” he said in 1982, “I just love to record historic things in it. I love its history, scenery, and people.”
Sources include: Southwest Art, April 1982; "Dallas Times Herald", 23 March 1982; Dallas Museum of Natural History press release, undated, circa 1982; interviews with Bruce’s children, PPHM files; Grauer and Grauer, The Dictionary of Texas Artists, 1800-1945 (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1999).