Thomas Hart Benton Home & Studio State Historic Site

Thomas Hart Benton Home & Studio State Historic Site The OFFICIAL page for the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site in Kansas City, MO. Thomas Hart Benton was an American muralist/painter from Missouri.
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He lived with his family in this house from 1939-1975. Exhibits showcase his artwork. Visitors can still see coffee cans full of paintbrushes, numerous paints, and a stretched canvas waiting to be transformed into another of his masterpieces. This is the place to get in touch with an American legend. The state park system is composed of 88 parks and historic sites managed by the Dept. of Natural Resources for the benefit of all Missourians. This forum is for speech related to Missouri State Parks. The views, opinions and positions expressed by users providing comments on this page are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of Missouri State Parks or any employee thereof.

Operating as usual

08/10/2020

Effective August 13, 2020, there will be no guided tours available at the Benton Home indefinitely. Our Visitor Center will still be open, but you will not be able to go inside the studio or house. As an alternate experience, a 15-minute video about Thomas Hart Benton and the house will be available on demand. We apologize, but this is for the health and safety of everyone.
The Visitor Center will be open 10AM-4PM Thu-Sat & Mon, 11AM-4PM Sun.

THIS WEEK IN BENTON HISTORY:The River Press (Ft. Benton, MT) – August 14, 1946:  So, here’s a point of confusion for man...
08/09/2020

THIS WEEK IN BENTON HISTORY:
The River Press (Ft. Benton, MT) – August 14, 1946: So, here’s a point of confusion for many Missourians: We have two famous Thomas Hart Bentons. And yes, they are related. The first was a senator; in fact, he was one of the first two senators elected for the newly established state of Missouri in 1821 and held that office for 30 years. He made a lasting impact and if you see the place name “Benton” as you travel around the country, it’s typically named in honor of him. Then you have our Thomas Hart Benton, the 20th century artist. He was named after his famous great-great uncle, the senator. This article refers to our Tom as the senator’s “grandson”—we often see this, whether it’s missing a generation and just labels him a “great uncle”, or sometimes like this, it’s missing a generation AND in the wrong branch of the family tree. Regardless, Tom was going up to Fort Benton, Montana for their centennial celebration. Fort Benton was named after the senator and since Tom was a famous descendant bearing the same name, he was an honored guest. We hope we didn’t confuse matters more for anyone—genealogy can be challenging! Check out the PDF at https://mostateparks.com/page/55154/benton-genealogy for the Benton family tree.

The Quartet – ca. 1940-55Oil on Tin – 5 x 5.5”Location as of [2017] – Surovek Gallery, Palm Beach FLFirst of all, notice...
08/06/2020

The Quartet – ca. 1940-55
Oil on Tin – 5 x 5.5”
Location as of [2017] – Surovek Gallery, Palm Beach FL

First of all, notice that this very small work was painted on a square of tin. While uncommon, it is a surface that artists have painted on for centuries. Thomas Hart Benton created a few works this way over his long career.
What makes this scene special for us is that it depicts the living room of the Benton Home. Those of you who have visited the house should recognize the fireplace chimney that rises through the center of the home in the background of this scene. Unfortunately, we don’t know who these musicians are, but the Benton Home was often full of music. Tom was a good harmonica player, his wife Rita accompanied on guitar or piano, their son T.P. became a professional flautist, and their daughter Jessie sang & played folk guitar. The family invited other musicians for dinner or small musicales; sometimes members of the Kansas City Philharmonic, sometimes folk musicians.
When this painting came up for auction at Sotheby’s in November 2016, it fetched a price of $42,500 – right in the middle of their estimated range.

THIS WEEK IN BENTON HISTORY:Ogdensburg [NY] Advance News – August 2, 1959:  One of the things people find most interesti...
08/02/2020

THIS WEEK IN BENTON HISTORY:
Ogdensburg [NY] Advance News – August 2, 1959: One of the things people find most interesting when they tour Benton’s studio is learning he made 3 dimensional models (known as maquettes) of his paintings—before actually painting them! After he made several preliminary drawings and had a piece planned out on paper, he would then create a model in order to achieve the proper highlights, shading, depth, and perspective. Once you know Benton does this, you can really SEE it in his art—it definitely has a sculptural quality. He found this technique particularly appealing for murals. Tom states, “If you want to paint a mural so it has the depth of life in it, you should sculpture it first in clay.” When Benton first began doing this for murals in the 1920s and ‘30s, it was shocking. Mural painters of the 19th Century took the opposite approach and typically painted very flat images in light, neutral tones. Suddenly, Tom appeared on the scene and painted robust, colorful murals so full of life they looked like they could walk right off the wall. Check out this portion of Benton’s mural “America Today” to see for yourself. https://www.facebook.com/ThomasHartBentonHomeandStudioSHS/photos/a.657225667699660/1659045377517679/?type=3&theater

Portrait of Dan Vincent – ca. 1925Oil on Canvas – 23.5 x 17.75”Location as of [1989] – Benton Testamentary Trust, UMB Ba...
07/30/2020

Portrait of Dan Vincent – ca. 1925
Oil on Canvas – 23.5 x 17.75”
Location as of [1989] – Benton Testamentary Trust, UMB Bank

Another of the fascinating characters from Martha’s Vineyard who Tom Benton painted was Dan Vincent. He was a jack-of-all-trades who ran a carpentry, blacksmith, and boat repair shop near the Menemsha harbor. Dan kept everything, so his shop overflowed with tools, rope, chain, old anchors, nails, metal parts, and lobster pots. He also regularly ran his steamboat to deliver fish to New Bedford MA, and returned with merchandise and food supplies. Dan was witty, well-liked, and spoke his mind at town meetings; however he wore his shoes only on the very coldest days.
One unusual thing that struck us about this painting was the very un-Bentonesque background. At this period, Benton usually would paint his interior backgrounds as a single neutral color. This time, however, he did a dark background with lots of color brushstrokes mixed in. It is somewhat reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s work, especially his 1938 “The Flame”. Of course, Benton would begin teaching Pollock about 5 years after “Portrait of Dan Vincent” was done.

THIS WEEK IN BENTON HISTORY:Kansas City Times – July 31, 1975:  Before she passed away in April of 1975, Rita Benton’s d...
07/26/2020

THIS WEEK IN BENTON HISTORY:
Kansas City Times – July 31, 1975: Before she passed away in April of 1975, Rita Benton’s dream was to preserve the home she and Tom had lived in for nearly 36 years for future generations to enjoy. To purchase the home as a state historic site, a bill needed to be passed by the Missouri legislature, but time was running out in the 1975 session. Luckily, bipartisan efforts made it a special order of business so Governor Kit Bond was able to sign the bill authorizing the purchase of the Benton Home. We are so fortunate for the efforts of Senator Carson, who really pushed the idea, Speaker of the House, Richard Rabbitt, who moved it to the top of the agenda, and Governor Bond, who was active in promoting arts and historic preservation across Missouri. We always tell visitors to the Benton Home that we’re especially lucky that Tom and Rita picked such a wonderful neighborhood to live in. Not only is it where the famous artist lived and worked for the second half of his career, but it’s in an incredible historic district in Kansas City as well—visit the home and pick up a copy of our self-guided walking tour of the Roanoke neighborhood to see for yourself!

Flanders’ House – 1921Oil on Paper – 6.5 x 7”Location as of [1981] – Private Collection, Coral Gables FLLast week we sho...
07/23/2020

Flanders’ House – 1921
Oil on Paper – 6.5 x 7”
Location as of [1981] – Private Collection, Coral Gables FL

Last week we showed you Benton’s portrait of Frank Flanders. Here is the Flanders’ house in Chilmark as painted by Tom. He only did this as a grey-scale painting, working on the tonal qualities instead of worrying about final colors. Many years later, after the house had been abandoned and partially collapsed, Benton used it in his 1943 painting “The Prodigal Son” (see https://www.facebook.com/ThomasHartBentonHomeandStudioSHS/photos/a.657225667699660/1181914071897481/?type=3&theater).

THIS WEEK IN BENTON HISTORY:Wichita Eagle-Beacon – July 20, 1980:  Art historian and curator of the Spencer Art Museum a...
07/19/2020

THIS WEEK IN BENTON HISTORY:
Wichita Eagle-Beacon – July 20, 1980: Art historian and curator of the Spencer Art Museum at the University of Kansas, Douglas Hyland, was working on an upcoming Benton show. Five years after Tom died, Hyland was intrigued by what the artist and his wife, Rita, kept in their personal collection throughout the long years of his career. Hence the exhibition, Benton’s Bentons. Hyland was thrilled by what he found in the Benton Trust, “Many of the works have never been shown publicly before. There are a number of works we don’t associate with Thomas Hart Benton—abstracts, a number of very beautiful portraits, still lifes.” As hard as it was, Hyland narrowed the show down to 80 works of art for the exhibition. They ranged from a 1909 self-portrait Tom did as an art student in Paris, to drawings for his last mural “Sources of Country Music”. Here at the Benton Home, we try to show visitors a variety of styles Tom worked with over the long years of his career. We have a Cézanne-esque Still Life ca. 1913, an abstract painted tablecloth he made for his mother in 1911 and another Cubist abstract painting he did near the very end of his life! It goes to show that although most artists find their own style, they typically never stop experimenting. Tour the Benton Home and see them for yourself!

New England Postmaster (Frank Flanders) – ca. 1925Oil on Canvas – 24 x 19”Location as of [1990] – Arkell Museum (Canajoh...
07/16/2020

New England Postmaster (Frank Flanders) – ca. 1925
Oil on Canvas – 24 x 19”
Location as of [1990] – Arkell Museum (Canajoharie NY)

When Thomas Hart Benton and his girlfriend Rita Piacenza began spending their summers on Martha’s Vineyard in 1920, he was immediately drawn to the island’s people. Their sun-worn and salt-bitten faces, their stories of life on the isolated island, and their Yankee attitudes were fascinating to Benton. He saw them as truly American characters, and he painted them as such, with exaggerated features and oversized hands. One such character was Frank Flanders. Frank loved to play checkers, and would spend hours playing the game in the general store in Menemsha. In the winter he would switch to the card game whist. He worked as a caretaker looking after homes that were closed up for the winter, and liked to go hunting for waterfowl in the fall. Author Polly Burroughs described Frank as accepting “life with a studied casualness”.

THIS WEEK IN BENTON HISTORY:Richmond County Daily Journal – July 12, 1989:  Benton was in the Navy during WWI and put hi...
07/12/2020

THIS WEEK IN BENTON HISTORY:
Richmond County Daily Journal – July 12, 1989: Benton was in the Navy during WWI and put his drawing skills to use by serving as an architectural draftsman in Norfolk, Virginia. When the United States entered WWII, Tom wanted to help his country in whatever way he could, so he again put his artistic skills in service. Between 1943 and 1944, he produced war paintings and drawings for the U.S. government. He visited industrial plants, training camps, ship yards and oil fields. He went to sea in a submarine and down the Mississippi River on an L.S.T., all the while showing what the young soldiers were facing and enduring. Many of these were printed and shown around the country during the war. In 1989, the Naval Historical Center loaned out 25 of these drawings and paintings for a new exhibition at the Chrysler Museum so people could enjoy them once again. Here are some examples of these paintings and drawings we’ve shared for our Painting of the Week over the years!
https://www.facebook.com/ThomasHartBentonHomeandStudioSHS/photos/a.657225667699660/729250670497159/?type=3&theater
https://www.facebook.com/ThomasHartBentonHomeandStudioSHS/photos/a.657225667699660/812229942199231/?type=3&theater
https://www.facebook.com/ThomasHartBentonHomeandStudioSHS/photos/a.657225667699660/1021309587957931/?type=3&theater

We're sending these flowers and a big "Happy Birthday!" to Jessie Benton for her 81st birthday! These are tiger lilies i...
07/10/2020

We're sending these flowers and a big "Happy Birthday!" to Jessie Benton for her 81st birthday! These are tiger lilies in the lovely garden Rita Benton tended for years.

Casey Jones/Night Encounter of Two Trains – 1967Mixed Media on Paper – 19.5 x 27”Location as of [1990] – Benton Testamen...
07/09/2020

Casey Jones/Night Encounter of Two Trains – 1967
Mixed Media on Paper – 19.5 x 27”
Location as of [1990] – Benton Testamentary Trust at UMB Bank

Sometimes for the Painting of the Week, we choose an event in history or a famous person’s birthday, find a connection to a Benton artwork, then try to teach you a little about both. A tragic event occurred July 9th, 1918 in Nashville, Tennessee – the so-called Great Train Wreck of 1918. Two passenger trains from the Nashville Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway collided head-on, killing at least 101 people in the wooden passenger coaches. Many of the victims were African-American laborers from a gunpowder plant (remember that this was during WWI; Benton was one week away from arriving at his US Navy posting in Norfolk, VA). One train was coming from Memphis, while the other was headed out of Nashville towards Memphis. They met on a single-track section near present-day Belle Meade, both travelling over 50 mph. The inbound train should have had the right-of-way, but a combination of poor operating practices, human error and lax enforcement of operating rules led to the worst passenger train wreck in U.S. history.
From his first childhood drawings through his very last mural, Tom Benton liked to depict trains. He found them to be exciting, romantic, dangerous, and representative of the American need for constant motion. “Night Encounter of Two Trains” is probably one of his least well-known railroad paintings. It is not in a museum, and we only have it in one of our library books (Henry Adams’ wonderful “Thomas Hart Benton: Drawings from Life”). It also was exhibited at the Hirschl-Adler Galleries in New York City in early 1991. This work is also different from his other train wreck paintings, “Engineer’s Dream” and “Wreck of the Ole ‘97”, in that the crash hasn’t yet occurred. But notice how the locomotive seems to be leaning forward and the crewman is running alongside or jumping off, with the caboose of the other train stopped as its brakeman signals with flag and lantern. A collision appears to be imminent!

THIS WEEK IN BENTON HISTORY:Letter from Rita Benton to Bill and Audrey Klein – July 7, 1969:  First, we would like to sa...
07/05/2020

THIS WEEK IN BENTON HISTORY:
Letter from Rita Benton to Bill and Audrey Klein – July 7, 1969: First, we would like to say “Happy birthday!” to Jessie Benton, Tom and Rita’s daughter. Her birthday is coming up later this week on July 10th. This is another lovely letter from Rita about their summer on Martha’s Vineyard. Apparently, in the summer of 1969, they all switched houses. Jessie had her kids at Tom and Rita’s home and Rita and Tom were using their son, T.P.’s, house on Menemsha Pond. The grandchildren came to swim every day and Jessie’s oldest boy, Anthony, was “mad about fishing” and would spend hours catching minnows with a net. Since T.P.’s house on the Vineyard didn’t have a studio, Tom hired a man to convert the garage into a studio and was busy at painting again. “It’s a most glorious place,” according to Rita, and we have to admit, it does sound perfect.
[Transcription]: Dear Audrey & Bill,
We have given Jessie and her family our house, and we are living in T.P.’s house. Jessie’s own house is rented. The enclosed card of this fishing village is at the entrance of Menemsha Pond, which is inland of the sea—we are on the same body of water from the enclosed scene across the water is about 3 miles. We have a private beach. It’s a most glorious place. Jessie and her children swim here every day—Anthony spends many nights with us—he is mad about fishing. He catches minows [sic] in a net. He had his 6th birthday. Our other house had a studio—this has not—so Tom with the help of a young man—turn[ed] this garage into a studio and now he has started to paint—however, Tom has designed and planned to build a real studio—the first of his life. He has always worked in made over garages or carriage houses—He plans to live 20 more years so that he could make use of the new studio. “Deus voluntas.” The carpenters will start marking in a week or so—and we hope all will be built by fall. Hope this find[s] you as well and happy as we are. With love to you both and the whole family.
Sincerely Yours, Rita

Custer’s Last Stand – ca. 1897Pencil on Paper – 5 x 7.5”Location as of [1990] – Private collectionWe often try to show a...
07/02/2020

Custer’s Last Stand – ca. 1897
Pencil on Paper – 5 x 7.5”
Location as of [1990] – Private collection

We often try to show a Benton painting and its companion sketches or study works in successive posts. But even though this drawing and last week’s painting have the same title and were both made by Benton, otherwise they have little in common. For one thing, the drawing was made when Tommy was about 8 years old, and the “Custer’s Last Stand” painting now at the Albrecht-Kemper Art Museum was made when he was 56.
Like most boys, Tom Benton was drawn to excitement. In his small town of Neosho, the arrival of a train was exciting, so he often drew those. The Spanish-American War began in 1898, so he also dramatically imagined the explosion of the battleship “Maine”. While the battle of Little Bighorn had occurred 20 years earlier, the famous Anheuser-Busch lithograph still hung in every saloon and barbershop; plus young Tommy regularly saw Indians from the Oklahoma Territory around Neosho. When his father was elected to the US Congress in 1896, and appointed to the House Indian Affairs Committee, he provided Tom with over a dozen volumes of Indian reports from the Bureau of Ethnology. (One of Tom’s books, about Navajo sand paintings, eventually ended up in the possession of Jackson Pollock, and was found in Jack’s studio after his death). Are you not surprised that George Custer and Native Americans would be a favorite subject of Benton’s?
For an 8-year-old, these are amazingly well-done drawings. They so impressed a family friend, Mrs. J.W. Saunders of Vinita OK, that she kept four of the budding artist’s sketches.

Address

3616 Belleview Ave
Kansas City, MO
64111

39, 47, or 55 city bus. https://ridekc.org/routes/category/midtown

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Thursday 10:00 - 16:00
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Sunday 11:00 - 16:00

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Our Story

Thomas Hart Benton was an American muralist/painter from Missouri. He lived with his family in this house from 1939-1975. Exhibits showcase his artwork. Visitors can still see coffee cans full of paintbrushes, numerous paints, and a stretched canvas waiting to be transformed into another of his masterpieces. This is the place to get in touch with an American legend. Learn more about this historic site, visit mostateparks.com/park/thomas-hart-benton-home-and-studio-state-historic-site.

Missouri’s state park system, which has consistently been ranked as one of the top four state park systems in the nation, contains 91 parks and historic sites. Within more than 150,000 acres available to the public, the state park system has something to fit everyone’s needs. The system includes homes of famous Missourians, Civil War battlefields; and reminders of yesterday such as gristmills and covered bridges. The state’s most outstanding landscapes are preserved for everyone’s enjoyment. Missouri State Parks is a division of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

This forum is for speech related to Missouri State Parks. The views, opinions and positions expressed by users providing comments on this page are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of Missouri State Parks or any employee thereof.


Comments

My husband and I visited the home today and it was the best tour we have ever been on. Katy was an exceptional tour guide. Lots of information, orignal belongings and plenty of art work to admire. Best $5.00 ever spent!
Has anyone ever seen a Benton painting signed like this? I've been told yes and I've been told no. So I figured I would reach out and see. Anyone know how to get a hold of Jessie?
Could anybody here tell me more about this painting? Thanks!
Great tour! Thanks Katie!
https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/country-music/episode-1-the-rub-beginnings-1933 39 seconds into Ken Burn's Country Music, episode 1
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezW0SspE9f4 Thomas Hart Benton - The Making of a Mural
Are you open or closed July 4?
I have a wonderful painting that I believe could have been painted by one of Thomas Hart Benton's students. I have done a little research and found that a person by this name (artist signature) lived in Joplin, Missouri and was a Designer, working for a printing manufacturer in 1940. The painting is dated 1943.
"Offering a panorama of American life throughout the 1920s, America Today is a room-sized mural comprising ten canvas panels. Missouri native Thomas Hart Benton painted America Today to adorn a boardroom on the third floor of the New School for Social Research, a center of progressive thought and education in Greenwich Village. The mural was commissioned in 1930 by the New School's director Alvin Johnson. Benton finished it very early in 1931, when the school opened a new building designed by architect Joseph Urban. Although the artist received no fee for his work on commission, he was "paid" with free eggs, the yolks from which he created the egg tempera paint."
This is one of my first paintings, and I'm not sure if I'm a Impressionist or what? Any advice would be great, thanks.
Steve, nice article on page 13A of the KC Star 1-21-18 under Big News for a Small City. National Geographic Traveler named KC as one of the best small cities in the US. Saying Thomas Hart Benton perhaps ignited the town's artistic fervor, inviting readers to visit the Thomas Hart Benton home/ studio. As we approach Tom's birthday April 15th, this could be a prime time to visit his home.