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Constructed in 1903, this Kansas City estate was home to Thomas Hart Benton from 1939 until his death in 1975. Benton was one of Missouri’s most famous artists and a leading figure in the Regionalism movement of the 1930s. Benton championed the common working-class American in his work and often used vibrant colors to paint strong-bodied people at work in rural or industrial scenes. Benton is especially well-known for his history murals in Missouri’s state capitol building and the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum in Independence. Benton’s home and studio opened to the public as a museum in 1983.

  • Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio
  • Benton in his home studio
  • Benton would often go on solo trips to gather inspiration. This photo shows him in the Ozarks, one of his favorite locations.
  • Benton's studio as it appears today for museum visitors
  • A portion of A Social History of the State of Missouri in the state capitol

Thomas Hart Benton was born in 1889 in Neosho, Missouri to a prominent political family. His great-uncle had been Missouri’s first senator, and his father was a US Congressman. Thomas Hart Benton was therefore exposed from an early age to the art, architecture, and murals of Washington, DC, in addition to the rural Ozark scenery of his native Missouri. [1] This combination became an obvious influence in his artwork throughout his life. He studied at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, the Art Institute of Chicago, and several academies in Paris. He worked as a Navy draftsman during World War I. After the war, he taught art in New York City; one of his students was Jackson Pollock.

In the 1920s, Benton returned to Missouri and started to develop his own personal style. He saw his native state through new eyes and began drawing and painting everyday scenes. He went on trips by himself around the Midwest and South, painting poor, ordinary Americans doing blue-collar jobs like mining, logging, farming, and picking cotton. [2] The average working-class people he used as subject matter always appeared strong and heroic. Benton’s artwork became the basis of a new form of artist expression known as Regionalism, which became incredibly popular in the 1930s. He became known for using deep, rich colors in his sweeping landscapes with large-bodied people.

During the Great Depression, Benton’s fame spread when he was hired to complete several murals, first while in New York City and later in Missouri’s state capitol building in Jefferson City. The mural A Social History of the State of Missouri has been described as one of Benton’s best works, although it was somewhat polarizing at the time for its depiction of less savory aspects of Missouri’s history. The mural was completed in 1936 and is still in the Missouri state capitol building today. Later in his life, he did a mural in the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri. President Truman himself is said to have even climbed up on the scaffolding to join Benton in painting the mural. President Truman is quoted as saying of Benton: “I picked him because he was the best, and this is the finest work by the best.” [3]

Benton, his wife Rita, and their two children moved to Kansas City in 1939. They purchased a 1903 home on Belleview Avenue for $6000. The home is Eclectic-style, with a native limestone exterior. At the back of the home is a carriage house, half of which Benton converted into a studio. He added large windows to allow plenty of indirect sunlight for painting. He worked every day in the studio, just taking breaks to eat. Rita acted as his business manager, displaying Benton’s artwork in their home and welcoming potential buyers to browse. The interior was done in neutral tones and simply furnished, which contrasted with the bright colors of Benton’s paintings.

Benton died in his studio in 1975, and his wife Rita passed away a few months later. The Benton home opened as a museum in 1983 and is operated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as Missouri’s smallest state park. It was largely left untouched and still appears as if the Bentons had just stepped out for the day. Benton’s carriage house studio still has coffee cans with paintbrushes, tools, and paint scattered throughout and a blank canvas on an easel. The home contains 13 original pieces of Benton’s artwork. Guides lead visitors on hour-long tours through the home and studio, giving insights into Benton’s life and art.

1.      Ivey, Mary Frances. “Thomas Hart Benton.” The Kansas City Public Library Website. Accessed December 1, 2019.

2.      Trout, Carlynn and Jillian Hartke. “Thomas Hart Benton (1889 - 1975).” The State Historical Society of Missouri Website. Accessed December 1, 2019.

3.      “Independence and the Opening of the West: Thomas Hart Benton.” Harry S. Truman Library & Museum Website. Accessed December 1, 2019.

4.      McGovern, Dudley J. “National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form: Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio.” Missouri Department of Natural Resources Website. Form prepared March 1, 1980. Accessed December 1, 2019.

5.      Kennedy, Wally. “State park preserves life of Thomas Hart Benton, family.” The Joplin Globe Website. June 13, 2010. Accessed December 1, 2019.

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