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Eric Sandweiss
Editor, Indiana Magazine of History

Last modified: Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Special issue of Indiana Magazine of History reconsiders Thomas Hart Benton and his Indiana Murals

Aug. 4, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In 1933, artist Thomas Hart Benton created a controversial series of murals for the Indiana Hall as part of the Chicago Century of Progress International Exposition.

Packed away at the Indiana State Fairgrounds after the Expo closed, the murals were eventually saved from obscurity by Indiana University President Herman B Wells and, divided up into 22 panels, installed in three buildings on the IU Bloomington campus in the early 1940s.

Benton Conservation

"Indiana Puts Her Trust in Thought" is one of the Thomas Hart Benton murals now at Indiana University Bloomington.

Print-Quality Photo

Seventy-five years after the creation of the murals, a group of scholars held a public symposium at IU to reconsider their history and significance. Several of the papers from the conference have now been published in the June 2009 special issue of the Indiana Magazine of History, guest edited by Kathryn Lofton and Matthew Pratt Guterl.

First, Erika Doss considers how Benton' s murals told the artist's story of Indiana history. Then Joy Kasson reconstructs how Benton's work might have been perceived by visitors to the Chicago Expo. Curator Austen Barron Bailly and cultural historian Casey Nelson Blake examine themes of race, politics and public morality in Benton's art.

Finally, historian James H. Capshew chronicles the story of Herman B Wells and explains his role in bringing the murals to IU Bloomington. The issue is illustrated with 16 color plates, focusing on the Indiana Murals and other Benton works from the same period.

The Indiana Magazine of History is published quarterly by the Department of History in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, in cooperation with the Indiana Historical Society. The magazine's Web site can be found at For general information on the articles, contact the editorial office of the magazine at 812-855-4139.