Rural Missouri - August 2020 - 50

	 At the time he took on the
challenge of the Missouri mural
project, Benton considered himself to be at the height of his artistic powers. The commission to
create a major mural in Missouri
gave him the perfect opportunity
to create his masterpiece and
to work with themes that were
shaped not only by what he could
glean from books and field trips
but also from childhood memories and local lore.
	 On the walls of the House
Lounge, he was provided a
wonderful space for the sweeping saga of Missouri history he
had in mind. The House Lounge
is a large, high-ceilinged room,
50 feet long and 25 feet wide,
with doors centered on the three
inside walls and a row of three
windows on the outside wall.
	 Benton proposed to create in
his mural a "Social History of
Missouri." If Missouri's politicians and art commissioners had
hoped to see noble leaders and
heroic deeds paraded across the
walls they commissioned, they
were out of luck. Precious few
noble leaders figure into the creation of Benton's mural. For him,
it was ordinary men and women,
hard at work at a thousand
tasks, who built Missouri.
	 None of Benton's characters
have time to strike noble poses;
they are usually absorbed in
some labor, helping in a modest but significant way to create the Missouri he loved. Real
Missourians from all walks of life
posed for the 200-plus persons
portrayed in the epic painting.
Benton did, however, journey to
Oklahoma in order to sketch a
genuine Osage Indian.
	 Benton's social history did not
spare Missourians reminders of
the unpleasant and shameful
aspects of their state's history.
On the walls of the mural, slaves
are being whipped and auctioned

50

RURAL MISSOURI | AUGUST 2020

photo courtesy State Historical Society of Missouri

Benton died in 1975 but will never be forgotten.

But in recent decades,
Benton's powerful mural
of Missouri history has
stirred up emotions of awe
and admiration more than
controversy. Of his stuning
artistic achievement, Benton
said, "I believe the Missouri
mural completed the last
phase of my development as
an artist.‚ÄČ"

off; a trader plies an Osage Indian with whiskey; Mormons are
tarred and feathered; a settler is
lynched by Civil War guerrillas
while his family is turned out of
their burning home; a bank and
a train are being robbed by Jesse
James and his gang. Johnny is
in the process of being murdered
by Frankie, and Huck Finn and
runaway slave, Jim, are shown
on a raft escaping down the Mississippi River on a moonlit night.
The bare bottomed baby raised
some eyebrows. The corrupt political boss of Kansas City in the
1920s and '30s, Tom Pendergast,
figures prominently on one wall.
For a year or so after the
Missouri mural was unveiled in
1936, plenty of controversy was
whipped up over these negative
aspects of Benton's social history. But in recent decades, Benton's powerful mural of Missouri
history has stirred up emotions
of awe and admiration more than
controversy. Of his stunning artistic achievement, Benton said,
"I believe the Missouri mural
completed the last phase of my
development as an artist."
Today, Benton's mural appears to be in excellent condition,
although qualified conservators
continuously evaluate the condition of this priceless work of art.
Beginning in the 1960s, the mural has been repeatedly cleaned
and repaired. Decades of smoke
and grime have been carefully
removed and a coating applied to
preserve and protect the artwork.
It is happily now possible to view
the mural in the full glory that
Benton intended for his powerful
depiction of Missouri history.
For more information on Thomas Hart Benton, visit the State
Historical Society of Missouri at
https://bit.ly/2ZkcGGH.
Denny is a freelance writer
from Lupus.


https://www.bit.ly/2ZkcGGH

Rural Missouri - August 2020

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