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Daughter of Benton muralist says her father accepted the good, the bad and the ugly of history


Students wait for class to begin in Woodburn 100. The lecture hall contains a mural created by Thomas Hart Benton in 1933, which has created controversy for its depiction of hooded Ku Klux Klan members in its background.  Emily Eckelbarger

When it came to details, Jessie Benton said her father was meticulous. 

"He was a very precise guy," Benton said. "A real stickler for perfection."

Jessie Benton's father was Thomas Hart Benton, a muralist who documented history and current events in the mid-20th century. 

He is also the artist of the infamous Woodburn Hall mural documenting Indiana's history, with depictions of the Ku Klux Klan. The mural has sparked controversy in the years since it was installed at IU in 1941. 

Most recently, a petition called for the removal of the mural in Woodburn Hall 100. Lectures will no longer be held in the classroom beginning in the spring 2018 semester. 

Benton said she thought her father would be unhappy to hear people were offended by his work. She said he couldn't help capturing what was happening at the present time. 

"This is something, if urged, the dialogue should probably continue until something can be resolved instead of closing the building," Benton said. "I know his intentions were pure."

Art, she argued, is art, history is history, and people can't hide it. 

She said she did not understand how people can be distracted by art that one could not study. She compared it to tearing down the statue of Robert E. Lee in Virginia.

"He was a great general," Benton said. "He was on the wrong side, he lost, but that's not the point, it's art. It represents something that happened." 

She said her father was not the bad guy. She said her father worked hard to accurately represent a period of time, and some things in history were ugly. 

But she said it was not in his nature to leave something out that was so large in the history of Indiana.

"I just feel it's so unnecessary. It's an auditorium that also receives the public too, it's not just the classroom." 

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