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Journal / Music

The Sources Of Country Music

Once a day Elek Horvath walks into the rotunda of the Country Music Hall of Fame. As the associate director of collection access for the hall and its museum, Horvath is tasked with checking the temperature and humidity level in the room each morning.

While there he admires the “Sources of Country Music,” an iconic six-foot by ten-foot mural painted by Thomas Hart Benton 50 years ago. “Every single morning, I see something different,” he says, noting the glimmering green aura around the saddle ring, for example, or the perspective of the banjo player.

Benton was a master of the American Regionalism style of painting and in 1973 agreed to paint a work documenting the various influences of country music, in part because of his lifelong love of the music. It hangs in the rotunda for all—including Horvath—to see.

This year, on the floor above the painting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum mounted an exhibition called An American Masterwork: Thomas Hart Benton’s “Sources of Country Music at 50.” The informative, in-depth exhibit explores Benton’s artistic process in creating the painting, which would turn out to be the last piece he ever created. The special exhibition, which is included with regular museum admission, runs through January 2025. It includes sketches, drawings, preliminary paintings and the three-dimensional model Benton used to complete the seminal work.

If you want to learn even more about Benton and the process of commissioning the mural for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, on April 13 the museum will host a 90-minute program in conjunction with the nearby Frist Art Museum. Panelists will discuss Benton’s technique and background. (Note that there are two other Benton paintings in the Frist’s Southern/Modern exhibition: Ploughing it Under and Ozark Autumn.) Panelists include: Horvath; Benton biographer Henry Adams; curator of American Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art Katelyn Crawford; and Seth Feman, Frist Art Museum executive director and CEO, who will moderate the program.

The 50th anniversary is the perfect time to revisit this mural and the lasting legacy of Benton’s work. “To me this was a heroic endeavor,” Horvath says, reflecting on the complexity of the material, the culmination of Benton’s eight decades of experience and the effort to commission the work.

Whether you make it to the special exhibition or the Frist panel or not, Horvath recommends you take your time looking at the mural itself. Take advantage of the shape of the rotunda to see it up close and to walk way back and see it from a distance.

“It should be the capstone of the experience,” he adds.