JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri State Capitol has recently completed an effort to restore and conserve the building’s murals that provide visitors with snapshots of the state’s history.
Neosho-born artist Thomas Hart Benton’s “A Social History of the State of Missouri” was a focus of the preservation project, the Joplin Globe reported . Benton’s murals give visitors a chronological guide through the lives of Missouri residents, from fur trading and early farming to a political gathering. Some of the artwork captures uglier parts of the state’s history, such as slavery and the 1838 expulsion of Mormons from the western part of Missouri.
The Legislature commissioned Benton’s murals in 1935 for $16,000, according to Dana Rademan Miller, chair of the Missouri State Capitol Commission. Benton traveled the state to find and sketch residents before featuring them on canvas. His artwork depicts 235 people.
“At the time, he was at the height of his fame as a regionalism artist that captured these themes from the Great Depression and of the Midwest particularly,” Miller said.
Benton’s murals were met with mixed reactions at the time. Supporters argued that every detail in the murals were true, while critics said Benton focused on the wrong stories from the state’s past.
But now, Capitol officials hope to preserve Benton’s work for future generations to admire.
The Capitol Commission started consulting with professional conservators two years ago to assess the conditions of Benton’s murals. The assessment led to 75 murals throughout the Capitol being inspected for damages.
“The nice thing is that our murals, we found out, were actually in pretty good shape,” Miller said. “We were afraid there would be a lot more deterioration and paint loss.”
She said the preservation project is important because the Missouri Capitol’s murals make the building unique.
“It’s something that is a legacy really for the future, for those who come after us,” Miller said.