Thomas Hart Benton Mural

Embed this image
Description: Postcard of a mural by Thomas Hart Benton from the Harzfeld's Department Store Downtown, Kansas City
Location: SC58
Collection: Mrs. Sam Ray Postcard Collection (SC58)See finding aid:,36981
Historical Article: A mural by Thomas Hart Benton, Achelous and Hercules, is pictured on a colorful promotional postcard put out by Harzfeld's downtown store in the late 1940s.The Greek legend of mythology was adapted to a Missouri setting by the artist and represents the struggle for control of the river lands by the people of mid-America.Harzfeld purchased the 24-foot mural from Benton for $15,000 in the late 1940s. It was displayed in the downtown store at Petticoat Lane and Main (1101 Main), high over the elevator on the first floor.When the downtown Harzfeld's store closed in January of 1984 to make way for the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. office and retail complex planned for the same block, the mural remained for weeks in the empty building.About this time the New York sale of another Benton mural, America Today, for 3.1 million raised the appraised value of the Harzfeld mural. It also dashed the hopes of Kansas Citians who had wanted to keep the painting in the area. Officials of the parent company of Harzfeld's, the Allied Stores Corporation, decided donating the painting was more profitable than selling it because of the tax advantage. Consequently the corporation gave a certain portion to the National Museum of American Art in Washington, part of the Smithsonian.Today at the Nelson-Atkins museum in Kansas City visitors are viewing a magnificent exhibition of Benton's work. American galleries and individuals have loaned their treasured paintings. The Nelson gallery commissionied a New York firm, which designed a provocative architectural installation for the large show. Areas of the museum were divided into slated rooms built of stacked 2-by-6 wood pieces, giving a louvered effect, a departure from the usual museum show.Many visitors stand quietly at the old Harzfeld (Smithsonian) mural, remembering times they stood waiting for the elevator at Harzfeld's downtown and viewed the writhing mythological serpent (the Missouri River), the great horned bull, the fruits, the sheaves of grain and the horn of plenty.A foreword on the program of the Benton exhibit by Marc F. Wilson, director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum states: We hope that with this exhibition we can remove Benton from the short-sighted stereotype of regionalism and examine him with fresh eyes, so that a more accurate understanding of this controversial and popular artist might be achieved.The exhibition, which opened April 18, 1989, closes here June 18, 1989.Kansas City TimesJune 2, 1989
Barcode: 20000703
Item Type: Postcard


Please do not submit reference and informational questions for staff in the comments field.

If you have a question that requires staff assistance, please email Missouri Valley Special Collections at

Thank you!

Add new comment