Thomas Hart Benton on Tom Sawyer: Re-envisioning Twain in the 20th Century

From the State Historical Society of Missouri, art historian Joan Stack examines the challenges Benton faced in translating Tom Sawyer  into a more modern visual style.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
2:00 pm
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Already an established artist of worldwide fame, Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton was a natural choice for the Limited Editions Club’s illustrated version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Likewise, the boy from Mark Twain’s most accessible novel was a perfect subject for Benton, whose influence on the Regionalist movement emphasized a need for works that conveyed a uniquely American character. But Tom Sawyer presented a challenge as the artist strained to translate the humor and ease of the vernacular prose into a modern visual style. These competing goals prompted Benton to adopt a deceptively simple, gestural style for his illustrations that earned praise from readers as well as critical accolades.

Joan Stack is the curator of Art Collections for the State Historical Society of Missouri, which is home to the exhibit Mark Twain and Tom Benton: Pictures, Prose, and Song – on display at the Central Library in September 2011.