This is not collectible.
I have already released series of art-themed travel bugs based on works I have seen in person. I will continue the series mostly including works I simply admire. There will also be famous works or works by famous artists that I otherwise do not particularly care for, but they are….well,..famous. My disdain extends to most Modern Art and a good amount from the Pop Art movement.
This artist, however, cannot possibly be sorted into either group. I learned about Thomas Benton as a young adult because I had a friend who offhandly mentioned he was named after an artist. I scoffed then because I had never heard of the artist. However, over the years I began to really appreciate his work. Thus, this narrative is much longer than those of most of the artists I have tried to characterize.
Thomas Hart Benton (1889 –1975) was an American painter and muralist. Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, he was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement. His fluid, sculpted figures in his paintings showed everyday people in scenes of life in the United States. Though his work is strongly associated with the Midwestern United States, he studied in Paris, lived in New York City for more than 20 years and painted scores of works there, summered for 50 years on Martha's Vineyard off the New England coast, and also painted scenes of the American South and West.
Benton was born in Neosho, Missouri, into an influential family of politicians. He had two younger sisters, and a younger brother. His mother was Elizabeth Wise Benton and his father, Colonel Maecenas Benton, was a lawyer and four times elected as U.S. congressman. Known as the "little giant of the Ozarks," Maecenas named his son after his own great-uncle Thomas Hart Benton, one of the first two United States Senators elected from Missouri. His father sent him to Western Military Academy in 1905-06, hoping to shape him for a political career. Benton rebelled against his father's plans. He wanted to develop his interest in art, which his mother supported. As a teenager, he worked as a cartoonist for the Joplin American newspaper.
With his mother's encouragement, in 1907 Benton enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago. Two years later, he moved to Paris in to continue his art education at the Académie Julian. His mother supported him financially and emotionally to work at art until he married in his early 30s. In Paris, Benton met other North American artists, such as the Mexican Diego Rivera and Stanton Macdonald-Wright.
Benton moved to New York City in 1912 and resumed painting. During World War I, he served in the U.S. Navy and was stationed at Norfolk, Virginia. His war-related work had an enduring effect on his style. He was directed to make drawings and illustrations of shipyard work and life, and this requirement for realistic documentation strongly affected his later style. Later in the war, classified as a "camoufleur," Benton drew the camouflaged ships that entered Norfolk harbor. His work was required for several reasons: to ensure that U.S. ship painters were correctly applying the camouflage schemes; to aid in identifying U.S. ships that might later be lost; and to have records of the ship camouflage of other Allied navies. Benton later said that his work for the Navy "was the most important thing, so far, I had ever done for myself as an artist."
In 1922, at age 33, Benton married Rita Piacenza, an Italian immigrant. They met while Benton was teaching art classes for a neighborhood organization in New York City; she was one of his students. The couple had a sonand a daughter. They were married for almost 53 years until Thomas' death in 1975. Rita died eleven weeks after her husband.
On his return to New York in the early 1920s, Benton declared himself an "enemy of modernism"; he began the naturalistic and representational work today known as Regionalism. Benton broke through to the mainstream in 1932. A relative unknown, he won a commission to paint the murals of Indiana life planned by the state in the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago. The Indiana Murals stirred controversy; Benton painted everyday people, and included a portrayal of events in the state's history which some people did not want publicized. Critics attacked his work for showing Ku Klux Klan members in full regalia. In Indiana, 30% of adult males were estimated to be members of the Klan, and in 1924 KKK members were elected as governor, and to other political offices.
On December 24, 1934, Benton was featured on one of the earliest color covers of Time magazine. Benton's work was featured along with that of fellow Midwesterners Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry in an article entitled "The U.S. Scene." The trio was featured as the new heroes of American art, and Regionalism was described as a significant art movement.
By 1935 he had alienated both the left-leaning community of artists with his disregard for politics and the larger New York-Paris art world with what was considered his folksy style. Benton left the artistic debates for Missouri. He was commissioned to create a mural for the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. A Social History of Missouri is perhaps Benton’s greatest work. As with his earlier work, controversy arose over his portrayal of the state's history because he included the subjects of slavery, the Missouri outlaw Jesse James and the political boss Tom Pendergast. Nevertheless, with his return to Missouri, Benton completely embraced the Regionalist art movement.
Because of his Populist political upbringing, Benton's sympathy was with the working class and the small farmer, unable to gain material advantage despite the Industrial Revolution. His works often show the melancholy, desperation and beauty of small-town life. In the late 1930s, he created some of his best-known work.
Benton taught at the Art Students League of New York from 1926 to 1935 and at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1935 to 1941. Benton's students in New York and Kansas City included many painters who contributed significantly to American art. They included Jackson Pollock, Pollock’s brother Charles Pollock, Eric Bransby, Mary Anne Bransby, Charles Banks Wilson, Frederic James, Lamar Dodd, Reginald Marsh, Charles Green Shaw, Margot Peet, Jackson Lee Nesbitt, Roger Medearis, Glenn Gant, Fuller Potter, and Delmer J. Yoakum. Benton also briefly taught Dennis Hopper at the Kansas City Art Institute; Hopper was later known for being an independent actor, filmmaker, and photographer.
He continued to paint murals for the rest of his life, including Lincoln (1953), for Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri; Trading At Westport Landing (1956), for The River Club in Kansas City; Father Hennepin at Niagara Falls (1961) for the Power Authority of the State of New York; Turn of the Century, Joplin (1972) in Joplin; and Independence and the Opening of The West, for the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence. His commission for the Truman Library mural led to his developing a friendship with the former U.S. President that lasted for the rest of their lives. Benton died in 1975 at work in his studio, as he completed his final mural, The Sources of Country Music, for the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee.