The last living model for one of the Missouri State Capitol’s best-known artistic features paid a visit to his likeness today, giving in what could prove to be a “fond farewell.”
In 1935, the legislature commissioned Thomas Hart Benton to paint the walls of the House of Representatives’ Lounge on the Capitol’s third floor. Benton called it “The Social History of Missouri;” a history that he felt would be incomplete without a baby, for without children there would have been no expansion into the west.
Enter Harold Brown, Junior, then the 1 year-old son of Missouri Adjutant General Harold Brown, Senior. While Benton was visiting the General’s home he saw young Harold crawling on a blanket and asked to include him in the mural. The Browns agreed and Benton sketched the youngster.
It is Harold’s likeness that became a baby having his diaper changed while a political rally plays out behind.
Brown, now 86, said with a wry smile that he’s “getting pretty feeble,” so he’s not sure how many more times he will be able to visit the mural.
His father is also in the mural. Benton was actually at the family’s home to sketch Harold, Senior’s likeness when he got the idea to include Harold, Junior. The elder Brown is the foreman of a jury in a courtroom scene near the southeast corner of the Lounge.
Brown also has the sketches Benton made of him and of his father. The sketch of his one-year-old self includes blotches of paint; the artist’s reminders to himself of what colors to use for the infant’s skin and eyes.
Benton signed the sketch, “To the Browns with apologies.” Brown explains, Benton was concerned Brown’s parents wouldn’t appreciate his rendition of their baby boy.
“My mother said, ‘Why with apologies? That’s such a beautiful thing.’ [Benton] said, ‘Because that’s my style. It’s bold and the baby is much prettier than that,’ and that’s why he signed it like that.”
Brown said he never met Benton after he was old enough to have remembered him, “and I can kick myself. I should have found out where he was in Kansas City or wherever he was and introduced myself to him and shake his hand. I think he would have appreciated that too,” said Brown. “You know, you think that you’re too busy to do a lot of things that you should do until it’s too late.”
Brown, Junior’s bare-bottomed likeness and the rest of the “Social History of Missouri” can be seen during guided tours of the Missouri State Capitol, which are offered by staff of the State Museum.