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Perhaps Thomas Hart Benton’s most well known work is the mural he painted on three walls of the House Lounge in the Capitol Building between 1934 and 1936. People were allowed to watch the work in progress–if they were quiet. He had a note posted asking them not to make suggestions.

All anybody had or has to do to see the work is go to the third floor on the west side of the building and walk through these doors:

Once it was finished, though, the mural suffered, from a variety of causes: from people picking at it with their nails to see how hard the paint was, not to mention from heat, birds and smoke from nearby factories when the windows were open. In 1960, Benton hired a preservationist to help him restore the mural, and from then on the room was air conditioned and humidity controlled. The mural will probably outlast the building.

The North Wall shows scenes from the early settlement of the state: pioneers heading here and tilling the soil, a settler trading whiskey with an Osage Indian, the use of slaves to do manual work, a worker swinging an axe, a blacksmth forging a wheel. Above the door, Huck Finn and Jim enjoy fishing on the Mississippi.

If you’d like to see the painting enlarged, click here and click on large.

The East Wall, the largest of the three walls, illustrates politics, farming, and law in the state, with many of its facets drawn from Benton’s own experience. For example, on the left side of the wall, the man breaking up a fight between two youngsters (Benton’s nephews) is Senator Ed Barbour of Springfield.

The towering funnel of smoke represents the Civil War, and in front of it is a freed slave who’s been lynched.

Click here to see a larger size.

The right side of the East Wall shows more farming scenes as well as the beginnings of smog from the industrial revolution.

Again drawing on personal experience, Benton showed his brother Nat, a prosecuting attorney, pleading a case.

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The South Wall shows St. Louis and Kansas City.

On the left are the shoe making and brewing industries that made St. Louis distinctive. On the right is Kansas City, with its stockyards and meat processing. Above the door is the famous story of Frankie and Johnny. Frankie found her man on a date with another woman and shot him dead. The affair was immortalized in song.

Click here for a larger size.