Moment of Indiana History

Thomas Hart Benton – Indiana Murals

Thomas Hart Benton‘s Indiana Murals are a series of panels that provide an impressive primer in Indiana History. They’re housed in three separate locations on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. Benton was commissioned in 1932 to decorate the Indiana Hall at the “Century of Progress” exposition at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. The Missouri native, who’d been trained in Chicago and Paris, was a leading mural painter of nationalist themes. Benton sought to create a truly American art that would speak to the common man. The Indiana murals depicted both the cultural and the industrial history of the state. Using the old-masterly technique of egg tempera, Benton covered 2600 square feet of canvas with scenes from the Mound Builders, to the French settlers, to abolitionists and women’s rights advocates. The choice of a non-Hoosier artist was only the beginning of the furor that surrounded the murals. Some considered Benton’s realistic style vulgar, and his frank treatment of Indiana ‘s history, offensive. Nonetheless, the mural was largely well received by critics and fair-goers from around the country, and put Benton on the cover of Time magazine in 1934. After the Indiana mural was dismantled, its panels languished in a horse barn until 1938, when they were made an official gift from the state to Indiana University. They were installed in the newly built Auditorium and two adjacent buildings in 1941.

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