Sunday, August 12, 2012

Taking A Tour of the Historic Thomas Hart Benton Home And Studio In Kansas City Is An Intriguing Way To Spend Some Time

Thomas Hart Benton Home
Kansas City overflows with great art and  historic homes.  Recently, I was lucky enough to experience both when I toured the Thomas Hart Benton Home in Kansas City's Midtown Roanoke neighborhood.

Located at 3616 Belleview, the Benton Home is a 2 1/2 story late Victorian-style house made from quarried limestone.  Sitting majestically on a slight hill above the street, it almost seems like part house and part castle when you look up at its sturdy rock structure from the road. 

This architectural gem was designed by George Mathews and built in 1903, coincidentally the same year which Mathews tragically died in a Kansas City streetcar accident.

The Carriage House
The first occupant of the home was Walter Kirkpatrick, who was the Secretary-Treasurer of the Kansas City Electric Light Company.

At the time Kirkpatrick lived in the home, it was illuminated with gas lights, and the carriage house also served as a horse stable.

However, by the time the Benton family moved into the house in 1939, it had electricity, and Benton soon converted half of the carriage house into an art studio.

Known as the man who created breathtaking murals inside the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City and the Truman Library in Independence, Benton was born in Neosho, Missouri.

As a teenager, he briefly worked as a cartoonist for a Joplin newspaper before leaving the area to serve in the Navy and to study, create, and teach art in places like New York, Chicago, and Paris.

Entering The Benton Home
By the time Benton settled in his Kansas City home, he was already an artist who was well known for his murals and Regionalism art-style.  He also taught at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1935 to 1941 where Jackson Pollock was his most famous student.

The Benton Living Room
Tours of the Benton Home are conducted on most days and  begin on the screened-in porch at the side of the house.

From there, you enter the home through a set of wooden double  doors and step into a very traditional-looking living room. Benton's bright and beautiful art adorns the walls, adding color and personality to the otherwise muted palette of the room.

The Benton Family
A photo of the Benton family  also sits on the family piano, giving the house a very personal feeling and comfortable vibe. 

The Benton Home Entry Area
Leaving the living room, the tour moves into the front entry area where a white brick fireplace, with its exposed chimney extending up into the second level of the home, is a prominent feature.

Customers who were interested in purchasing artwork from Benton were usually greeted in this space by Benton's wife, Rita, who was his business manager.

The Benton Dining Room
Next on the tour is the dining room with beautiful cut glass windows and more of Benton's stunning paintings.

The Benton Kitchen
From the dining room, you even get a glimpse into the fairly small and simple kitchen of the home.

The Benton Library
The Benton Master Bedroom
After viewing the dining room, you are then escorted upstairs to view the second-floor open library and the home's bedrooms, including the master bedroom.

Self Portrait With Rita
Again, the walls are decorated with Benton's distinctive colorful paintings, including "Self Portrait With Rita," which humorously portrays Benton as big and muscular, when in reality he was a small man.

Inside Benton's Studio
After seeing the inside of the home, you are then led out to the carriage house and into Benton's cluttered studio.

Benton died here in 1975, but the studio remains exactly as he left it.  You can feel his presence and almost envision him at work as you step into his personal creative space.

It is filled with coffee cans full of well-used brushes, tools, a canvas waiting to be painted and more as you look around and try to take everything in.

Benton's Art Studio
A close look at the walls even reveals a photo of Benton with Harry S. Truman, who was a personal friend.

The Benton property was purchased by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in 1977, who opened the house and studio to the public.  It is a state historic site and on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information on tour days, hours, prices, parking and more, visit the Missouri tourism website.


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