Tom Lea in National Spotlight as Adair Margo Honored with Major Award

First Lady of El Paso Adair Margo received the prestigious Historic Preservation Medal for her efforts to preserve the work of El Paso artist Tom Lea.

According to the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, their organization presents fewer than 30 of these awards each year.

“This is the most prestigious award the National Society presents to individuals who have done extraordinary volunteer work over a long period of time,“ says Cindy Phillips, National Chair of the NSDAR Historic Preservation Committee. Margo was nominated by the El Paso Stoddert-del Norte Chapter of the NSDAR.

Margo is quick to point the spotlight back onto the artwork she has preserved as founder of the Tom Lea Institute. “This is the first award I’ve gotten in historic preservation. But it really points to the importance of Tom Lea. It’s about preserving what he stood for,” says Margo.

“It’s ours. It’s our roots. Preserving Lea’s art enriches all of our lives when we know where we come from and when you have someone who expressed it so beautifully, visually as well as in writing,” says Margo.

One of the ways the Tom Lea Institute preserves Lea’s art and legacy is through creating curricula for El Paso’s public schools.

“Students say ‘El Paso doesn’t have anything to offer. I’m getting out of here as soon as I can,’ but once they start studying Tom Lea and how he loved this region, they catch that same love. They see El Paso through Tom’s eyes and their own eyes open to the beauty, history, and culture of this region,” says Holly Cobb, Executive Director of the Tom Lea Institute.

The artist, Thomas Calloway Lea III, was born in El Paso. Lea is known as a muralist, illustrator, WWII artist correspondent, novelist, historian, landscapist, and portraitist. Lea never had a gallery until 1993 when he asked Margo to help him with his work. Without her efforts, his work would have been forgotten following his death in 2001.

Founded in 2009, The Tom Lea Institute is located in downtown El Paso. It is a non-profit organization created to engender an appreciation of the art, character, and legacy of Tom Lea through curricula, public programs, exhibits, and publications — all of which have led to the preservation of his work.

The institute recently launched a stunning redesign of its website, to provide visitors, art lovers, and history buffs with enhanced access to the story and work of Tom Lea.

The society honored Margo at a conference in Houston on March 22.