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James Tinney

Last modified: Monday, March 25, 2002

Thomas Hart Benton murals timeline

1932 -- Thomas Hart Benton is commissioned to paint the murals to decorate the Indiana Hall at the "Century of Progress" exposition at the Chicago World's Fair. Benton signed a contract to paint a continuous mural, 12 feet high and about 250 feet long, depicting the "Social and Industrial History of Indiana."

1933 -- Gov. Paul McNutt dedicates the mural display on July 2. Critics were sharply divided on the murals. Some believed that the murals made Indiana's state exhibit the most artistic at the fair; others disliked Benton's style and subject matter. Benton himself described the murals as "A Dream Fulfilled."

1935 -- After being temporarily warehoused at the conclusion of the World's Fair, the murals are transferred to the state fairground in Indianapolis and largely forgotten.

1938 -- The new president of IU, Herman B Wells, begins work on the first major building project of his tenure, a music hall that came to be known as the IU Auditorium. He remembers the murals from his visit to the World's Fair. Wells contacts Gov. Clifford Townsend and IU obtains the murals for the price of shipping.

1940 -- Benton assists in the installation and retouching of the murals. Sixteen central panels are installed in the grand lobby of the Auditorium. Two panels with "business" themes are placed in Woodburn Hall, the new center of the Business School. Panels with "recreation" themes are placed in the University Theater behind the main auditorium.

1941 -- On March 22, the IU Auditorium holds its grand opening. On Dec. 9, the university holds "Indiana Mural Day." Benton attends and holds workshops.

1975 -- Thomas Hart Benton dies. He remained an active artist until his death.

1986-87 -- Concerned about the deterioration of the Woodburn and University Theater murals, including the frequently vandalized KKK image in the Woodburn mural, the university receives a National Endowment for the Arts grant and cleans and conserves the panels.

1997-98 -- In conjunction with the renovation of the IU Auditorium, the NEA awards IU a conservation grant for restoring the Benton murals there, declaring the Benton mural restoration to be the most important such project in the nation. IU raises matching funds for the project. The Getty Trust also is a primary sponsor of the effort.

2000 -- On Jan. 27, the IU Auditorium, with the restored murals, is rededicated.