The East Texas Oil Museum and Its New Deal Murals

Kilgore, Texas, is located 120 miles east of Dallas in south-central Gregg County. Founded in 1872 by cotton planters, the town was named by the International-Great Northern Railroad in honor of Constantine Buckley Kilgore, a U.S. Representative from Texas. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the town remained a small rural enclave that catered to the agricultural needs of the region. That all changed in the 1930s, however, when the East Texas Oil Field was discovered.

Kilgore experienced a boom time when the vast petroleum reserves of the East Texas Oil Field became common knowledge. At the peak of the boom, Kilgore housed more than 1,000 oil wells, which were built right next to local homes and buildings. Prospectors traveled from all over the country to strike it rich, and local citizens began calling the era the "Gusher Age." Some of the major oil producing companies of the boom years included: Humble Oil and Refining Company, Yount-Lee Oil Company, the Texas Company (Texaco), Shell Petroleum Corporation, and the General American Oil Company.

The East Texas Oil Museum was constructed in honor of the people and culture of the Gusher Age. The museum, located on the campus of Kilgore College, promotes the history of oil discovery and production in the 1930s. It features a full scale rendition of an East Texas oil town, complete with period stores, automobiles, people and machinery.

Also on display at the museum are four oil on canvas murals painted by Xavier Gonzalez in 1941 as part of the
New Deal's public works of art program administered by the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture. The four murals, titled “Drilling for Oil,” “Contemporary Youth,” "Music of the Plains," and “Pioneer Saga,” explore many regional themes, including the oil industry, and early Texas settlement. The murals, originally located at the Kilgore Post Office, were moved to the East Texas Oil Museum in 1999.

Born in Almeria, Spain, in 1898 to Emilio Gonzalez Diaz de Paredes and Gracia Arpa Perea, Xavier and his family moved to South America and then Puebla, Mexico, in the early twentieth century. Gonzalez studied mechanical engineering in Mexico City, and later painting and sculpting at the San Carlos Academy in Puebla. In 1922, Gonzalez moved to the United States and found work as a draftsmen for a railroad in Iowa. Gonzalez then moved to Illinois and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. Later, in 1925, Gonzalez moved to San Antonio to teach at the Witte Museum before moving in 1931 to Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans. According to historian Christopher Long, Gonzalez is known for his "unusual versatility with a variety of figurative and abstract styles". Xavier Gonzalez passed away of leukemia in New York City in 1993.