This is a scene I remember well — the auditorium at IU, where I went to college. I ushered at the auditorium, and I remember being fascinated by the giant colorful murals in the foyer area.
I had a few classes in Woodburn Hall, room 100 — hey! There is a similar mural there.
I was excited to recently learn more about these murals when I read Thomas Hart Benton and the Indiana Murals . I learned that these murals had a fascinating past. They were painted by Thomas Hart Benton in the early 1930s, for the 1933 World’s Fair Indiana Exhibit in Chicago.
- The inclusion of the Ku Klux Klan in the murals was controversial even at the time. Benton, a liberal Democrat, wanted it included, claiming that it was part of the state’s history. He got a group of Democrats to come in and convince his boss that it should indeed be part of the murals — the Democrats were eager for this because they felt that the KKK would hurt Republicans.
- The Indiana Exhibit at the World’s Fair was unique among all the state exhibits. Most included “canned peaches and artificial waterfalls” — busy and product-based — while Indiana’s was just a huge, empty hall with these 12-foot murals displayed around the ceiling of a 28-foot high walls depicting the state’s cultural and economic history. What did visitors think? A publicist noted that 50% liked the display, 40% disliked it, and 10% had no reaction.
- Benton was a controversial choice to paint the murals. He was a New Yorker, and many felt a Hoosier should have done the paintings. He painted the display in an amazingly short time — under 3 months. He completed 38 square feet of painting each day, boasting that he never went over his work or re-did any of it.
- These murals established Benton’s fame, and soon after painting them he was hired to paint a series of murals for the Missouri State Capitol which have a very similar look.
I took my time reading this book. For several evenings, I read aloud about one panel each evening after dinner to the family. The book includes large color replicas of the entire mural, including fold-out color pages.
A fascinating look into Indiana’s past!
I’m grateful to IU Press for this book — I won it in a contest for alumni 😉 Post contains an affiliate link.