Thomas Hart Benton and the Indiana Murals

Thomas Hart Benton murals IU AuditoriumThis 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.

IU Woodburn Hall 100 Thomas Hart Benton muralsI 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.

3 thoughts on “Thomas Hart Benton and the Indiana Murals

  1. Grandma Schulte went to the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1934.

  2. It’s interesting to learn that Grandma Schulte went to the Worlds Fair. I didn’t know this.

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