An Artist at Home in America: Michael Mardikes’ Photographs of Thomas Hart Benton
Mardikes filed away the remaining negatives for 65 years. Now 32 of the photos are on display as part of the exhibition An Artist at Home in America at the Central Library.
By the time Benton and Mardikes met through a mutual acquaintance, Benton was Missouri’s most famous artist, part of the regionalist triumvirate alongside Grant Wood of Iowa and Kansan John Steuart Curry. In contrast, Mardikes, 29 at the time, worked the night shift at the Ford plant in Claycomo.
Many of the photographs chronicle Benton’s work on “Trading at Westport Landing,” a 50-by-89-inch egg tempera on canvas mural commissioned by the River Club in 1955. Mardikes made a point of closely observing Benton at work rather than questioning him about technique, but his images serve as a study in artistic process.
Mardikes ultimately decided against a career in photography and retired from a position in administration at the University of Missouri-Kansas City after 36 years. He died in late 2021 at age 94. Benton made paintings, murals, drawings, and lithographs until his death in 1975 at age 85.
An Artist at Home in America is sponsored by the Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts. A reception will take place January 20, 2022.