Thomas Hart Benton Lithographs on Exhibition in Joplin; Curator Talk on Feb. 25

The complete collection of 91 Thomas Hart Benton Editioned Lithographs will be on exhibition at the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts as part of the opening celebration of the Harry M. Arts & Entertainment Cornell Complex in Joplin November 12, noon to 5 p.m. Visitors can see the exhibition, on loan from the State Historical Society of Missouri, until March 5, 2023. 

In conjunction with the exhibition, SHSMO Art Curator Joan Stack will present a lecture Sat. Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. discussing Thomas Hart Benton’s interest both in making artwork that represented everyday citizens, and in creating affordable original artworks available to middle-class consumers. From the 1930s to the 1970s, Benton partnered with the New York based firm Associated American Artists to produce and market lithographs that individual consumers could purchase for prices as low as five dollars. Stack will discuss the lithographic process used to create these artworks, as well as Benton’s compositional techniques and subject matter.

The exhibition, Thomas Hart Benton: The Complete Editioned Lithographs, brings the Missouri master’s artwork back home to the southwestern region of his native state. Benton was born in Neosho in 1889, and his editioned lithographs date from 1929 to 1974. The broad-range imagery reflects the artist’s complex aesthetic and philosophical approaches to the concept of American identity, and many of the prints are variations of famous Benton paintings.

Benton sometimes described his images as explorations of “America’s mythologies,” according to Joan Stack, art curator of the State Historical Society of Missouri. “In this exhibition, many of the lithographs represent mythic tropes associated with the United States’ evolving understanding of its social, cultural, and economic character. Going West, for example, represents a locomotive engine powering its way forward across an American landscape.”

The State Historical Society of Missouri holds one of the few complete collections of the editioned lithographs that Thomas Hart Benton published during his lifetime. These prints were displayed in two installments in 2019 as one of the inaugural exhibitions in the Society’s new Center for Missouri Studies building in Columbia.  Now, for the first time, visitors can see the entire collection in a traveling exhibit at Spiva Center for the Arts during regular visitor hours.