Tom Benton's Missouri

DVD and Blu-ray are for sale.

For schools, youth and civic groups, the film, soundtrack and the educator's guide are available for free on the Downloads page.

Introduction from the filmmaker

One Sunday afternoon in 1984, the legendary Bob Dyer sang his ballads of Missouri history in the Capitol’s House Lounge with Thomas Hart Benton’s painted walls crammed with the life of the state looming above him. Frank Fillo and I carefully recorded the session on an ancient Nagra tape recorder. That evening, over a couple of milkshakes, we came up with the idea to make a documentary about the mural that would feature Bob’s music. Eight years later, “Tom Benton’s Missouri,” a half-hour 16mm film, premiered, starring Benton himself as narrator of his most ambitious mural. The film was broadcast around the country on PBS. Furthermore, it was distributed in a VHS format for Missouri schools, accompanied by a “floppy disk” with teaching possibilities compiled by Fran Reynolds and Janet Omurtag, two savvy Missouri teachers.

Now, a generation later, “Tom Benton’s Missouri” has been reincarnated in a high-definition digital format, which can be downloaded free. And this resource-rich educator’s guide is at your disposal to spark original ways of presenting, discussing, and interacting with the greatest painted walls west of the Sistine Chapel and north of Mexico City.

The following classroom resources are available to accompany the film:

  • The classroom connections, story, power, regional social identity and extended lessons sections provide dozens of ideas for activities in communication arts, music, fine art, history and social science classes. These sections were co-authored by Luce Myers, lecturer in art at Missouri University of Science and Technology; Kathy Unrath, associate professor of art education at the University of Missouri; and Abbey Trescott, a teacher at Rock Bridge High School in Columbia
  • The Thomas Hart Benton mural in the Missouri State Capitol, by Nancy Edelman, is a study of A Social History of the State of Missouri. In clear language, Edelman provides historical background and interpretation of scenes in the mural and Benton’s own insights into them.
  • The edit script of "Tom Benton’s Missouri" describes the film’s construction shot by shot.
  • The Bob Dyer songbook provides the lyrics, the musical notation and some anecdotes about the songs in the film, two of which Dyer composed for the film, “After He Painted These Walls” and “Huckleberry Finn.” Digital audio files of the tracks can be downloaded from the soundtrack link. Like Benton’s mural, Dyer’s lyrics are historically accurate.
  • A Benton bibliography, updated by University of Missouri–St. Louis Professor Ruth Bohan, cites numerous Benton references for further study.
  • Where the Bentons are lists locations and links to other Benton murals and collections.
  • The chronology of Benton’s life was prepared by the artist himself as an appendix to his autobiography, An Artist in America, available from the University of Missouri Press.
  • The Benton sampler is a selection of a few of Benton’s numerous quotable quotes: “I paint murals because I can put more stuff in them.”

The dedicated team that created the film, the digital video, audio files, and this guide profoundly hopes that you and your students will have big fun exploring Benton’s works with the help of these tools.

This project is a collaboration between the four campuses of the University of Missouri System and MU Extension.

James Bogan
Curators’ Teaching Professor Emeritus
Missouri University of Science and Technology