Ellen Jones Pryor: (615) 243-1311, ”, ”
Emily Harper: (615) 744-3331, ”

NOTE: High resolution images available

Frist Center Features Thomas Hart Benton Works
in City-wide Celebration of Mark Twain

NASHVILLE, TENN. – (August 13, 2009) – In conjunction with the Nashville Public Library’s city-wide celebration of beloved author Mark Twain, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts has organized Thomas Hart Benton in Story and Song, which will be presented in a portion of the Ingram Gallery from Oct. 2, 2009 through Jan. 31, 2010. The exhibition features more than 80 works, including 20 drawings from each of the three illustration projects he completed to accompany Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Life on the Mississippi. The exhibition also features prints, drawings, and paintings relating to Benton’s deep love of American vernacular music.

The exhibition will be presented alongside Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Times: American Modernism from the Lane Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, comprising more than 50 works exploring the development of American Modernism through the eyes of a passionate collector.

“We thought these two exhibitions worked well together,” says Frist Center Chief Curator Mark Scala, “as they both look at America from different perspectives at a time when the country was moving from a rural, agricultural-based economy to one that was more urban and industrial.”

“By creating images that capture what he saw as the simplicity and dignity of everyday life in rural America, Benton strove to pay homage to his country’s people, history, and land,” says Katie Delmez, Curator. “While music was a tremendously significant part of his life and inspiration for his work, it’s surprising that, until now, the influence that music had on his work has not yet been fully explored.”

The exhibition is divided into two sections. The first, “Thomas Hart Benton in Story” includes his delightful and lively illustrations of three of the most beloved works by Mark Twain, Benton’s favorite novelist. Like Twain, a fellow Missourian, Benton made his images with a raw, unvarnished tone, intending to present the quintessentially straightforward and unpretentious character of America. Although the two men were separated by a generation, their respective bodies of work were informed by their small-town, Midwestern upbringings.

The second section, “Thomas Hart Benton in Song,” includes works relating to his deep love of music. In addition to his talents as an artist, Benton was also a largely self-taught musician. Growing up, he listened to country music and was familiar with its artists and songs. As an adult, he began to play the harmonica and achieved enough proficiency to record an album (Saturday Night at Tom Benton’s, Decca 1931).

Benton often incorporated musicians and country ballads into his images. Several of the works in this section relate to specific songs, including Wreck of the Ole’ ’97, a ballad recounting the 1893 fatal crash of a Southern Railway train. Others, such as The Music Lesson, show the pleasure of sharing music among family and friends, as the artist so often did himself.

In 1975, the Country Music Foundation approached Benton to create a work based on the roots of country music. He began the project, The Sources of Country Music (on view at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum), in December of that year. In 1975, as he was putting the finishing touches on the work in his studio, Benton suffered a massive heart attack and died in front of the mural. During the years of development of the work, he submitted dozens of sketches to the foundation board for their comment and review, and ten of these works will be included in this exhibition.

Benton, who was born in Missouri in 1889 and died in 1975, is well known for his distinctive style and colorful palette. He enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1907 and later studied in Paris, where he met Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who undoubtedly influenced Benton’s style and choice of subject matter. In his early years as an artist, he traveled from the art scene in Paris, to New York, to the rural South, and home to Missouri. In his travels, he became a keen observer of America’s working classes and also became aware of the distinction between urban and rural cultures that is often reflected in his work.


Ingram Gallery Sponsors for 2009:

Platinum Sponsor: The HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA and the TriStar Family of Hospitals

Gold Sponsor: First Tennessee

Hospitality Sponsor: Union Station, a Wyndham Historic Hotel

Frist Center Exhibition-Related Programs

Sunday, Oct. 18 Family Day
1:00–5:30 p.m.

Enjoy a fun-filled day of excitement with friends and family including special art-making activities, a musical instrument petting zoo offered by the Country Music Hall of Fame
and Museum, live music from Nashville’s own Westbound Rangers, and a main stage marionette production depicting the tall tales, scenes, and music from the Hill Country titled Backwoods Rambling presented by Wood and Strings Theatre.

Check out Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Times: American Modernism from the Lane Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which features amazing examples of American Modernist paintings and photographs. Stroll through Thomas Hart Benton in Story and Song to see Benton’s original illustrations for Mark Twain’s books, Life on the Mississippi, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as well as drawings, prints, and paintings from Benton’s lifelong admiration of folk music and musicians. Visit the Upper-Level Galleries to explore the exhibition Twilight Visions: Surrealism, Photography, and Paris, which includes photographs that evoke the mystery of the chance encounters experienced by the Surrealists as they wandered through the labyrinthine city streets of Paris.

Thursday, Nov. 5 Lecture: Author Henry Adams
6:30 p.m. Thomas Hart Benton: An Epic Life

Thomas Hart Benton was not only a famous American painter, but a notable writer, musician, and spokesman for American country music. While best known as the leader of the “American Scene” movement of the 1930s, he also had a notable early career as a Modernist in Paris and was the teacher of the abstract painter Jackson Pollock. Join Henry Adams, author of the principal biography of Benton, as he reviews the trajectory of Benton’s life, as he ranged from Gertrude Stein’s Paris to the highways of the American West.

Henry Adams is the author of Thomas Hart Benton: An American Original (Knopf, 1989) as well as the recent book Tom and Jack: The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock (Bloomsbury Press, New York, October 2009).

Exhibition Credits

Thomas Hart Benton in Story and Song was organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, Tenn. by Frist Center Curator Katie Delmez.

About the Frist Center

Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., is an art exhibition center dedicated to presenting the fines
visual art from local, regional, U.S. and international sources in a program of changing exhibitions. The Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features 21 interactive stations relating to Frist Center exhibitions. Gallery admission to the Frist Center is free for visitors 18 and under and to Frist Center members. Frist Center admission is $8.50 for adults, $7.50 for seniors and military, and $6.50 for college students with ID.
Thursday and Friday evenings, 5:00 – 9:00 p.m., admission is free for college students with a valid college ID. Discounts are offered for groups of 10 or more with advance reservation by calling (615) 744-3246. The Frist Center is open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; and Sundays, 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., with the Café opening at noon. Additional information is available by calling (615) 244-3340 or by visiting our Web site at

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