Heroes and Goddesses – A Travel Napkin Story, Part 2

The Truman Library

Before I met the two Goddesses I talked about in part 1, I visited the home of 2 of my heroes.  I met them at the Truman library in Independence, Missouri, just east of Kansas City.  Truman is obviously one of the men I am talking about.

Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

The other of my heroes is Thomas Hart Benton, the artist.  You may have read about him in my ongoing ‘Artists I Love’ series I have been doing the past few winters. He has one of his large murals in the lobby of the Truman Library.

‘Independence and the Opening of the American West’

 

The Buck Stops Here

One of the most famous sayings in Presidential history is from Truman. ‘The Buck Stops Here’ was his motto and has been restated by virtually every president since.  He actually had the saying on his desk, and you can see it right as you enter the museum.  Much of the museum is dedicated to the many decisions only Truman, as President, had the power to make.

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WAR

Bomb and Peace

Truman’s most controversial decision of his Presidency was one of his first. He chose to drop the Atomic Bomb on Japan.  It led to their surrender but the decision was never unanimous within his inner circle nor among the military.  It still is debated today.

One of the things I most admired in the Truman Museum was they did not shy away from bringing this controversy out in the open. they had a whole section dedicated to the arguments pro and con about the decision and allowed visitors to voice their opinion as well.

Here is a book visitors could write in giving their opinion and here is mine, in a drawing.

My opinion has always been that it wasn’t the dropping of the bomb that was the problem, it was dropping it on a population.  I think that if they had dropped it 5 miles off the coast of Tokyo, the Japanese, who already were trying to figure out how to sue for peace and still save face, would have seen what was coming and surrendered pretty much along the same time table they did after the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A History of War

Off in the corner of the downstairs are of the museum there are two examples of war. The first, in the background, is a 5,000 year old helmet from a Greek warrior. In the foreground is a small reproduction of the sculpture commemorating the raising of the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima towards the end of WWII.  It’s a cruel testament to how incessant war is for us humans.

Plenty and Plenty of Nothing

But often out of the worst of events great efforts can arise.  While we in the US were starting to come out of the trauma of war, Europe was not.  Truman’s Marshall Plan was our initiative to help Europe make it’s way back.  

While Secretary of State Marshall’s name and face was front and center in the plan to help all of Europe back on it’s feet, it really was Truman’s initiative. He knew however that due to his own political baggage a plan with his name on it would not have the universal support it needed to succeed.  Marshall, the leader of the overall US War effort was one of the most popular men in the country and he was able to lead the project to fruition. 

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Civil Rights

A number of Benton’s paintings were on display at the museum in a temporary exhibition titled ‘Truman and Benton: Legends of the Missouri Border’ that documented the interrelationship between the two over the course of their lives.

The Negro Soldier

During the middle of WWII Benton painted this painting.  It was pretty controversial at the time.  It depicted an American soldier, but it was a ‘Negro’ soldier, not something white America was used to seeing or celebrating.  His choice to depict an African-American was his way of forcing people to see the black person as equal in war.  Not long after the war was over Truman, in spite of a typical Missouri upbringing of his era that was rooted in the racism of slavery and segregation, signed an executive order desegregating the US Armed forces.  It was met with much resistance in the south, breaking apart the Democratic party at the time, but very likely helped Truman win the 1948 election due to increased support in the north and west.

One of the reasons I like Truman is that, while by today’s standards he wouldn’t be considered enlightened on race, he certainly grew and moved beyond his own upbringing to move the country forward into racial equality as best he could at the time.  

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Communism

Communism and Korea

When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, the cold war got hot.  The policy of containment of communism had been fleshed out by the US and allies and it included not allowing the USSR or China to push into any areas they weren’t already occupying.  The amount of fear that pervaded the US at that time regarding communism is hard for most of us to understand now but it was real.  Some fears were valid but much was due to ranting demagogues like Sen. McCarthy and high pitched propaganda as seen below.

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Later

While the President and the Painter did not enjoy a friendship early on in their careers, they did become friends during the painting of the mural.  Benton did a painting of Truman later in his life.

The Old President

Benton’s Tools

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The museum was well worth the trip to Independence. If you are anywhere near Kansas City I highly recommend it.

Self-Portrait at the Truman Library

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Artists I Love – Thomas Hart Benton – Winter Weekend Series

 

Week #4 in my Winter Weekend series on artist’s I love – This week it’s Thomas Hart Benton, 1889-1975.

 

The Music Lesson

The Music Lesson

 

Benton started out in Missouri as the son of a US Senator. As a result he was well-educated, world-wise and somewhat wealthy.  He spent time in New York and Paris learning his craft as an artist, trying on different styles.  Eventually he moved back to Missouri and embraced what became known as Regionalism.  His images depict farmers, families, workers and environments that show an everyday America.

 

Wreck of the Old 97

Wreck of the Old 97

 

He often showed a tension between the new and old, in particular how that tension affected the growth of America into the west.  You will see again and again a stylistic ‘bump’ in the middle of many of his paintings. This swell, as if the world was fluid like an ocean, is one of my favorite things about his work.

 

Persephone

Persephone

 

As did many artists, Benton loved to reinterpret ancient myths. This image is a midwestern play on the myth of Persephone.  Through a series of calamities she was condemned to Hades.  A bargain was struck with the Gods by which she could spend half her time above ground, on the earth, and then return to Hades for the other half.  Thus was born the reason behind our spring and summer seasons of bounty and growth and our autumn and winter seasons of death and desolation.

 

Benton Murals - Missouri State House

Benton Murals – Missouri State House

 

Benton painted many murals, including a number in the Missouri State House. One of the items on my bucket list is to visit Kansas City and surrounding areas to tour all the amazing murals he created.

 

Sources of Country Music

Sources of Country Music

 

‘The Sources of Country Music’ was his final painting.  It was still on his easel when he died in 1975.

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Fall/Winter 2016

Winter/Spring 2015

Summer 2014

Winter 2012/2013

Winter 2011/2012

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