Benton, Thomas Hart, S1c

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Last Rank
Seaman 1st Class
Last Primary NEC
S1c-0000-Seaman 1st Class
Last Rating/NEC Group
Illustrator Draftsman
Primary Unit
1918-1919, S1c-0000, Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY), Portsmouth, VA
Service Years
1918 - 1919
DM-Illustrator Draftsman
Seaman 1st Class

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Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by Steven Loomis (SaigonShipyard), IC3 to remember Benton, Thomas Hart (Tom), S1c.

If you knew or served with this Sailor and have additional information or photos to support this Page, please leave a message for the Page Administrator(s) HERE.
Contact Info
Home Town
Neosho, Newton County, MO
Last Address
He was cremated and his ashes scattered over Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Date of Passing
Jan 19, 1975
Location of Interment
Not Specified
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

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Last Known Activity
Thomas Hart Benton, USNRF
WWI navy illustrator draftsmen and ship camouflage designer (camoufleur)

During World War I, at the age of 29, Tom served in the U.S. Navy and was stationed at Norfolk, Virginia. His war-related work had an enduring effect on his style. He was directed to make drawings and illustrations of shipyard work and life, and this requirement for realistic documentation strongly affected his later style. Later in the war, classified as a "camoufleur," Benton drew the camouflaged ships that entered Norfolk harbor. His work was required for several reasons: to ensure that U.S. ship painters were correctly applying the camouflage schemes, to aid in identifying U.S. ships that might later be lost, and to have records of the ship camouflage of other Allied navies. Benton later said that his work for the Navy "was the most important thing, so far, I had ever done for myself as an artist."

Benton was hired in 1940, along with eight other prominent American artists, to document dramatic scenes and characters during the production of the film The Long Voyage Home, a cinematic adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's plays.

During World War II, Benton was commissioned by the navy and created a series titled The Year of Peril, which portrayed the threat to American ideals by fascism and Nazism. The prints were widely distributed. Following the war, Regionalism fell from favor, eclipsed by the rise of Abstract Expressionism. Benton remained active for another 30 years, but his work included less contemporary social commentary and portrayed pre-industrial farmlands.  

Thomas Hart Benton (April 15, 1889 - January 19, 1975) was an American painter and muralist. Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, he was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement. His fluid, sculpted figures in his paintings showed everyday people in scenes of life in the United States. Though his work is strongly associated with the Midwestern United States, he studied in Paris, lived in New York City for more than 20 years and painted scores of works there, summered for 50 years on Martha's Vineyard off the New England coast, and also painted scenes of the American South and West.

Thomas Hart Benton was also an accomplished harmonica musician, recording an album for Decca Records in 1942 titled "Saturday Night at Tom Benton's". Benton died in 1975 at work in his studio, as he completed his final mural, "The Sources of Country Music", for the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. He was cremated and his ashes scattered over Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Other Comments:
During World War I, Benton was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, where he served as an architectural draftsman and painted camouflage for the Navy. In his free time he read American history and sketched local scenes of shipyard life. The Navy's requirement for artistic realism and documentation strongly impacted on his later style. Up until this time he had struggled to find an artistic identity. It was his turn to depictions of everyday life of American and its people in a representational style that announced Benton's emergence as a mature artist. Because of his interest in American history and his family's deep roots in Missouri, Benton soon chose the American Historical Epic as a theme; his elongated figuration showing the influence of El Greco.

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  Thomas Hart Benton
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Last Updated:
Nov 5, 2017

About the Artist:

Thomas Hart Benton was born in Neosho, Missouri, and named for a great uncle and early United States Senator. His father, Colonel M.E. Benton, was a Congressman for eight years, and during the winter, the family lived in Washington D.C. and in Neosho in the summer. At age 17, after the family had returned to Missouri, he took a summer job as cartoonist on The Joplin American. Determined to pursue his talent, he later said he had to run away from home to become an artist.

In 1907-1908, he studied with Frederick Oswald at the Art Institute of Chicago and then studied in Paris for three years including briefly at the Academie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens and for a longer period at the Academie Collarossi, where he could work independently.

In 1911, Colonel Benton decided he could no longer support his son in Paris, so Tom went to New York. Between 1910 and 1920, he experimented with styles of Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Synchromism, the last influenced by his friend, Stanton MacDonald-Wright. For much of this time, he was a dedicated modernist, but a fire destroyed most of the examples of his painting from this time period.

His draftsman experience in the Navy, 1918-19, led to his American Scene realist style beginning with a mural, The American Historical Epic for the New School of Social Research in New York City. This work earned much respect for mural painting and was key to the support of artists in the Federal Art Projects.

His murals at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City are major American Scene murals, and in 1957, he was commissioned by Robert Moses, chairman of the board of the Power Authority of the State of New York to paint a mural for the Power Authority at Massena. For this work at the site, he did extensive research on the theme, which was the Canadian expedition of Jacques Cartier in the mid 1500s.

The early part of his career he lived in New York City where he taught at the Art Students League and became a major influence on the style of gestural painter, Jackson Pollock. But increasingly Benton grew to believe that art should express one's surroundings rather than abstract ideas and that the ordinary person most exemplified American life. Many of these ideas he inherited from his Populist father who served as a Congressman from Missouri from 1897 to 1905.

From 1935, he established a studio in Kansas City from where he painted for the next forty years until his death at age 85.

He was both a prolific lithographer, completing 80 lithographs between 1929 and 1945, and writer including two autobiographies, An Artist in America, and An American Art. Fellow Missourian and former United States President Harry Truman said that Benton was "the best damned painter in America."

My Photos From This Event
Thomas Hart Benton
Tom Benton, Painter
Self-portrait 1925, Tom Benton
Self-portrait 1971, Tom Benton

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