Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thomas Benton's Indiana murals

The Indiana murals were originally created for the Indiana Hall at the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago in 22 panels that stretched 250 feet, encircling the exposition. When the Century of Progress Exposition closed, Benton's panels were stored in a horse barn at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Herman B Wells, early in his tenure as Indiana University president, arranged for the state to give the murals to IU in 1940.

Today, 16 of the panels are in the lobby of the IU Auditorium, two are in Woodburn Hall and four were in the old University Theatre building, which is currently under construction (the two panels currently being restored come from the theater building).

Thomas Hart Benton (American, 1889-1975), "Indiana Puts Her Trust in Thought," 1933. From the Indiana Murals (Cultural Panel 11).Tempera on canvas on panel.

Benton (1889-1975) was a Missouri native who studied art in Paris and New York. When Indiana officials commissioned him to produce the murals, he delved into study of the state's history and traveled across Indiana for months to gain a sense of Indiana's people and geography.

"History was not a scholarly study for me but a drama," wrote Benton, who was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1934. "I saw it not as a succession of events but as a continuous flow of action having its climax in my own immediate experience."

Culture panel 10, "Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press"

Benton is perhaps best known at IU for his controversial mural, "Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press," which includes an image of robed Ku Klux Klansmen burning a cross alongside an interracial hospital tableau in what has been interpreted as a tribute to the newspapers that brought down the hate group. While he was often critiqued for his "vulgar" style and focus on everyday life, Benton insisted on presenting both the good and bad elements of Hoosier history.

More panels: