Thomas Hart Benton murals kick off Black History Month events

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COLUMBIA - The State Historical Society of Missouri (SHSM) held its first time event last Monday to address Thomas Hart Benton's mural, "A Social History of Missouri."

According to the history on the SHSM's website, Thomas Hart Benton raised controversy during the time period due to his murals were thought to be "too outspoken about politics and art." His murals are known for showing ordinary people doing common things.

Joan Stack, Curator of Art Collections, held a discussion on Benton’s mural. "We see more diversity and we might initially notice a difference and then perhaps, we begin to think about why is there a difference?"

Joan Stack oversees exhibitions and public access to the State Historical Society of Missouri’s collection of more than 17,000 artworks. Her current work focuses on Benton’s art. Stack emphasizes the importance of how different Benton’s art was in comparison to the modernist period.

“So in a way, he is recognizing the significant cultural contributions of black people during this period."

Stack also said, "Benton taking on the race issue for some of those senators and legislators to look at; they might say it was because he didn't represent the heroes of Missouri."

Media relations coordinator, Mary Ellen Lohmann agrees with Stack.

“He really was a regionalist. He painted things and Americans and Missourians the way that they were really doing things in their day to day lives.”

Both have cultural expectations for this event.

Stack said, “The goal of the event in connection to black history month is to encourage people to realize that race plays a role in how we perceive art.”

“We’re hoping that people will see the way that African Americans have been represented in paintings and in our cultural history. It has been evolving,” Lohmann said.

A Social History of Missouri is currently in the House Lounge in Jefferson City. While the mural is a prominent decor for the House Lounge, Stack said sometimes decor isn't just what it is.

"I think a lot of people go in places and see artwork primarily as decoration."

According to Stack, Benton's mural didn't only depict history, but evolution of society as well.

"The culture changes before the politics change. I think almost always that happens, and so we may be able to see an example of thatin Benton's mural."

This first time event kicked off Black History Month events on Feb. 1.