The artist and the explorers

Steven Sitton, administrator of the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site in Kansas City, Mo., will give a February 14 presentation in Topeka, Kansas, about Thomas Hart Benton’s artistic interests in the wild lands seen along the Missouri River by the members of the 1803-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition.

When he was at the age of 76, a time when most folks are whiling away in their twilight years, Benton decided to take a three-week trip along the Missouri River to make sketches of lands seen by the explorers.

Thomas Hart Benton's "Lewis and Clark at Eagle Creek."
Thomas Hart Benton’s “Lewis and Clark at Eagle Creek.”

Benton’s journey was in 1965. By then, he was a well-known artist whose fluid style mostly portrayed everyday Americans and their plights set within the context of the history of our country.

Benton traveled with staff members of the National Park Service and the Army Corps of Engineers on the trip up the Missouri River. Not only did he want to view Lewis and Clark sties, he also wanted to visit corresponding sites painted by Karl Bodmer in 1833.

Benton became fascinated by the White Cliffs of the Missouri River. Located in what is still a remote area of Montana, the White Cliffs—spectacular white sandstone formations etched into many different shapes over eons by water and wind—flank the river, with some cliffs towering up 300 feet. In his journals, Meriwether Lewis described the White Cliffs as having “a most romantic appearance.”

Benton’s time in the White Cliffs resulted in the painting “Lewis & Clark at Eagle Creek” that shows the White Cliffs along the river, as well as stands of trees and buffalo contently grazing. The large landscape is painted in Benton’s extraordinary style.

Sitton’s presentation, titled “Thomas Hart Benton paints Lewis and Clark,” will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Kansas Museum of History, 6425 SW 6th Avenue in Topeka. The lecture is one in a Museum After Hours lecture series. Sitton’s presentation is free. The regular $10 museum admission fee will be half-price from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. More info: 785-272-8681.

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