Rural Missouri - August 2020 - 49

He rediscovered his childhood love of drawing realistic
scene (his brother is addressing the jury) and the nostalgic
objects.
farm and home settings were all drawn from Benton's boyHe turned his back on the modern abstract art movehood memories growing up in southwest Missouri accomment. From then on, America and its people would be
panying his father on the political circuit. The remaining
the wellspring of his artistic inspiration. For years, he
wall depicts life in St. Louis and Kansas City with indusjourneyed along countless back roads all over the nation
trial workers and political meetings.
drawing everything he experienced. Volume upon volume
Like Mark Twain, Benton was an authentic Missouriof sketch books filled up with thousands of images of the
born genius. His mural is an enduringly popular attraction
people and places he saw.
in the Capitol building. It is impossible to imagine the total
As Benton gained new-found fame and prosperity
number of visitors who have witnessed this exas an artist, he grew increasingly disenchanted with
traordinary mural over the past eight decades.
The opportunity to paint the Missouri State
the New York and Paris art establishments. He felt a
Capitol mural came at a significant crossroad in
growing desire to return to the Midwest, if only he
Benton's artistic career. By then he had gained
could make a living there. At this fortuitous juncture, two extraordinary opportunities came his
a blossoming national reputation as a muralist.
Jefferson
way from his home state.
Time magazine featured Benton on the cover of the
City
First, thanks to family political connections
Dec. 24, 1934, issue. The story within described
in southwest Missouri plus a few rounds of
Benton as the "most virile of U.S. painters of the
bourbon whiskey, local politicians came to the
U.S. Scene." Benton, along with Grant Wood and
conclusion that it would be a good idea to have
John Steuart Curry, had emerged as leaders of a
the now famous native son paint a mural in the state Capinew regionalist movement that was coming to dominate
tol. Somehow they managed to wrangle a bill through the
the American art scene.
state general assembly to hire Benton to execute the mural
Benton was born in 1889 in Neosho, Missouri, where
at the princely sum of $16,000, more than the governor
his father was a prominent lawyer and four-term congresswas paid. It was Benton's most lucrative commission yet.
man. The younger Thomas bucked family tradition to purHe began the project in 1935 and completed it in 1936.
sue art. With his mother's aid, he studied art in Chicago,
At the same time he received the mural commission, an
Paris and then New York, which became his home and
offer came from the Kansas City Art Institute to join the
studio. The many painting skills he acquired during these
faculty as head of the painting department. This sealed his
stopovers were supplemented by a stint in the Navy during
determination to move back to his home state of Missouri
World War I. His duties required him to make drawings of
and set up permanent roots in the heartland of America.
the naval installations where he was stationed, an experiKansas City became his home until his death in 1975.
ence that set him on the course he would ultimately follow.

photos courtesy ?????????????? ??????????????

Benton hard at work on the mural in the state Capitol in 1936.

photo courtesy Thomas C. Grimm, State Historical Society of Missouri

AUGUST 2020 | RURALMISSOURI.COOP

49


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Rural Missouri - August 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - August 2020

Contents
Rural Missouri - August 2020 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - August 2020 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - August 2020 - Contents
Rural Missouri - August 2020 - 4
Rural Missouri - August 2020 - 5
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Rural Missouri - August 2020 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - August 2020 - Cover4
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