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Thomas Hart Benton [Artist] Collection

Repository: St. Louis Mercantile Library Special Collections

Title: M-326: Thomas Hart Benton [Artist] Collection

Date [inclusive]: 1951-2000

Extent: 1.5 linear feet in 2 boxes: 1 record box and 1 flat oversize.

Location note: Archives.

Language: English

Abstract: The Thomas Hart Benton collection contains records from the archive of Creekmore Fath, related to Fath's catalogue of the lithographs of the famous American Regionalist artist Thomas Hart Benton, "The Lithographs of Thomas Hart Benton" (1969), as well as other projects Fath was involved in as a close friend and the most important collector of Benton's prints. The collection consists of original correspondence between Fath and Benton and other individuals and institutions, photographs, research notes, manuscripts, business records. It covers the period of the late 1950's through 2000. 

Biographical/Historical note: Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) was one of the foremost American Regionalist artists and muralists. He was born in Neosho, Missouri in a family of distinguished politicians. His father was Maecenas Benton, a lawyer and U.S. Congressman, and his great-great uncle was Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1872-1858) from Missouri. His mother was Elizabeth Wise Benton, who encouraged his interest and pursuit of art. Benton studied at Western Military Academy (1905-06), followed by the School of The Art Institute of Chicago (1907-09), and the Academie Julian in Paris (1909-1911). While in Paris he was immersed in the life of contemporary French artists and experienced the modernist styles of the early 20th century, including that of Diego Rivera (1886-1957). In 1912 Benton moved to New York and in 1922 married Rita Piacenza (1896 - 1975), an Italian immigrant who was a student in one of his art classes. They had a son, Thomas Piacenza Benton, and a daughter, Jessie Benton. In the 20's and early 1930's Benton developed his unique Regionalist style characterized by a fluid naturalism that emerged in both his easel paintings and his murals. In 1934 he was featured in Time Magazine along with two other Midwesterners, Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry. In 1935, Benton left New York, the epicenter of American modernism which he came to disdain, and moved to Kansas City to teach at the Kansas City Art Institute. While living in the Midwest he took life in small-town America as his signature subject. In 1937 he published his autobiography, An Artist in America, which prompted Sinclair Lewis to say, "Here’s a rare thing, a painter who can write." Around that time, Benton started printing limited edition lithographs, which initially sold for $5 at the Associated American Artists Gallery in New York. After the war, Benton continued to be a prolific artist, a teacher, and a muralist. He died at the age of 85.

Creekmore Fath (1916 - 2009) was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Texas. He was a successful and influential lawyer with a long career in Texas. After obtaining his law degree from the University of Texas, where he co-founded the campus Progressive Democrats, he moved to Washington, DC, to serve in the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and then with the Democratic National Committee. In 1947 he married Adele Hay (1917 - 2007), the daughter of New York socialite Alice Appleton Hay and Clarence Hay, the son of John Hay, Lincoln's private secretary. The Faths moved back to Austin, where he ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a liberal New Dealer. He spent the rest of his life as a sought-after political consultant and champion of progressive politics. During his multifaceted career, Fath amassed remarkable book and art collections. He bought his first Benton print in 1939 for which he paid $5 after receiving his first fee as a lawyer. His quest of other Benton prints lead to the publication of the catalogue raisonné of the artists' lithographs in 1969. His research on this project comprises the core of the Mercantile Library's collection. It also cultivated a lifelong friendship between him and Benton. Fath's was the largest private collection of Benton prints outside of the artist's family. The Fath collection comprised all but a few of the approximately 100 lithographs that Benton created, including several not listed in the catalogue raisonné.

Scope and Contents note: The Thomas Hart Benton collection includes correspondence, photographs, manuscripts, research notes, business records, clippings, brochures, and printer’s proofs related to the publication of a catalog raisonne of Thomas Hart Benton’s lithograph prints by Creekmore Fath, “The Lithographs of Thomas hart Benton” (1969), and to other projects Fath initiated relative to Benton’s art – exhibitions, publications, lectures. 

The most important part of the collection are the letters the author and the artist exchanged in the 1960’s where Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) explains the subjects and history of his prints, as well as his career and growth as an American artist. The correspondence between Creekmore Fath (1916-2009) and numerous individuals, museums and galleries are an evidence of his deep interest in Benton’s art and his research skills in locating information on the complete set of prints. All correspondence attests to the wide social engagements the two people had in the time period of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The photographs of the collection encompass mainly working reproductions of Benton’s artwork as well as his greeting cards, a signature type of artifact. There are a few photographs of Benton and Fath.

The manuscripts are primarily typed documents of the publications from various stages of work, as well as handwritten research and conversation notes. There are many clippings of print reproductions, a result of the work on the design of the catalog.

Business records in the collection are mainly financial statements pertaining to the printing of the catalog by the University of Texas Press.

Conditions Governing Access note: This collection is open for research. A contents list for the collection can be found in the PDF finding aid.

Conditions Governing Use note: Due to the rare and fragile nature of this resource, reproduction of the collection’s materials must be reviewed by library staff. Please contact the Library at 314-516-7247 for more information.

Copyright Information: The researcher assumes full responsibility for observing all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply.

Fee Services: Fees associated with staff research time, cost recovery in reproductions processing time and materials, and licensing may apply.

Preferred Citation note: The preferred citation for this collection is "From the collections of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at UM - St. Louis."