It’s no secret that Thomas Hart Benton never created a work of art for his hometown of Neosho.


It’s no secret that Thomas Hart Benton never created a work of art for his hometown of Neosho.

Neither, as far as I know, did Benton ever use a local model during his professional career.

No worries, though. This April, the Newton County Historical Society is bringing in 10 — yes, 10 — original Benton art pieces to Neosho for a day.

The artwork, on loan from the Missouri State Historical Society, will be displayed Saturday, April 16, in the one-room schoolhouse at the Newton County Historical Park and Museum, 121 N. Washington St., one block north of the Neosho Square.

Additionally, a guest speaker from the State Historical Society will give a brief lecture on Benton and his work, and live music is scheduled as well. More details will be forthcoming as the event draws closer.

Now, just think about it for a moment: original Benton artwork right here in Neosho. Oh yeah, this is a big deal.
Joplin has their one original Benton mural, of course, at the Newman Building. But that’s it. Beyond that, Kansas City is the next closest place to view original Benton artwork. However, on April 16, it’s coming here.

I’ve said it before, but you don’t have to be a huge fan of art to like Thomas Hart Benton or appreciate his work. Personally, I’m not and I do on both counts. That is, I’m not big on art, but I do like Thomas Hart Benton — probably for a lot of the same reasons that many people don’t — and I do appreciate his work, which to me is somewhat akin to being out in a windstorm. There is a raw force there that is both surreal and natural, complex and simple. I’m certainly no art connoisseur, but that’s my personal perception.

Anyway, I wouldn’t want to miss Benton’s artwork coming to his hometown just because of the historical significance of that. Benton paid Neosho a few visits, and one big formal one — accompanied by Harry S Truman — in 1962, after he left home for the wide world out there. But for the most part, goodbye was goodbye when it came to Benton and Neosho. And, at first, many folks may have also thought “good riddance” given Benton’s penchant for getting into mischief. Not long before he left for good, Benton said farewell to his hometown by getting into a knock-down, drag out street fight in front of what is Community Bank & Trust on the Neosho Square. He was arrested, spent the night in jail and paid a $1 fine the next day. Like many of Benton’s youthful shenanigans, it made the local newspaper.

Of course, when he came back to great fanfare in 1962, after making it in the big time, the signs in the crowd read, “Welcome Home, Tom.”

Well, Mr. Benton, all we can do now is welcome some of your artwork here for a day. And that’s just what we’re going to do on April 16 — one day after what would have been your 122nd birthday.

Wes Franklin is director of the Newton County Historical Park and Museum, 121 N. Washington St., in Neosho. He is also a staff writer for the Neosho Daily News. He can be reached at 658-8443.