Wildcatter to Wildflowers

Edgar B. Davis was a three time winner.

The Massachusetts native made his first million in the shoe business before he was thirty. Then he signed on with the United States Rubber Company and set up a 90,000 acre rubber plantation in Sumatra.

By the time he resigned from the board of directors in 1919, he was the largest single stockholder. Another 3.5 million in his pocket (about $44 million in today’s money.)

About that time, his brother asked him to come to Texas and manage his oil investments. That’s what brought him to Lulling. From the moment he stepped off the train, Edgar, a devout Christian, felt he was being called by God to raise up that part of Texas.

Even though geologists insisted there was no oil to be found there, Edgar kept drilling wells. All dry. Six in a row. You can guess what happened next. Rafael Rios No. 1, gushed in and opened up the Luling Field, which was soon producing 43,000 barrels a day.

In 1926, Edgar sold out to the Magnolia Petroleum company for $12 million (that would be $146 million today.) It was the biggest oil deal in Texas history at the time.

Odd thing about Edgar...he wasn’t all that interested in holding on to money. He loved to give it away. To employees. To friends. To the community. He built a hospital and a golf course for Luling, among other things. But what could he give to the whole of Texas?

That’s when his mind turned to flowers.

He remembered how during his wildcatting days, when he almost went broke drilling dry wells, how seeing the wildflowers covering the hills around Luling had given him consolation and sustained his spirit to carry on.

In 1926 he went to the San Antonio Art League. Told them he wanted to sponsor a contest that would induce the best artists in the country to visit Texas and paint its scenic beauty.

The Grand Prize was $5000, an unheard of amount for an art contest. His only stipulations were that the paintings show wildflowers, and that his name not be used. This was for the glory of God and Texas, not Edgar B. Davis.

There were over 3000 entries. Spreads in national magazines brought the technicolor beauty of Texas wildflowers before for the eyes of America for the first time.

The Grand Prize winner was Glory of the Morning by Dawson Dawson-Watson, an Englishman who had studied with Monet. He was so enthralled by Texas that he settled in San Antonio.

Glory of the Morning by Dawson Dawson-Watson

The ‘Texas Prize’ of $1000 for the best painting by an artist residing in Texas went to Jose Arpa for Verbena.

Verbena by Jose Arpa

The Texas Wildflower Competitive Exhibition, held from 1927 to 1929, set the nascent Texas art community of firm legs and shined a national spotlight on it. It nourished an artistic identity and love of landscape still thrives.

So the next time you find yourself admiring a beautiful bluebonnet painting, a tip of your hat to Edgar B. Davis would be in order, though it would probably embarrass him.

Here are some other paintings entered in the competitions:

Thistle Blossoms by E. Martin Hennings

Evening Shades by Peter Hohnstedt

Red-Bud and Wild Plum by Eliot C. Clark

Texas Wild Flowers by Ella K. Mcwhinney

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