Float Trips, Artists, and Thomas Hart Benton

This is a photo I took on a float trip down the Osage River with my dad and 3 other guys, back in 1983 or 1984, I can't remember. We were floating from Taberville to Osceola Missouri, we took two days to float it. (Notice the rubber strips on the cooler to the left, in the photo, our slingshot for plink'n) The guy in the photo is Jim Schmotz. Jim owned an advertising agency in Kansas City at the time. Jim is a pretty interesting guy, he studied painting under Thomas Hart Benton, when he was teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute. Jim was a mentor to me, helping me with things like pricing artwork, and giving encouragement.

He had a lot of Benton float trip stories from his student days. He said on one trip, they never made it to the river they were to float, because Tom drank a little too much Bourbon, and drove the car off the road into a ditch. They spent the weekend in the car while it rained for 2 days. Another time, Tom spent the entire weekend in his tent, roaring drunk. Jim sold his business, and decided to spend his time painting full time, just after this float trip. I haven't seen Jim since my dad's funeral, in 2003. My college painting instructor was also a former student of Benton's. He and his wife stayed with the Benton's after they got married, they had no where else to go, so Tom invited them to stay at his house.

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, my parents divorced. We were staying with my mother at the time. My dad was living in a huge house off of Southwest Trafficway, in Kansas City's old Valentine neighborhood. We would visit him on weekends. The lady who owned the house was the heiress of the Hughes Candy Company fortune. I guess Hughes candy was a hot item in the early 20th century, from the looks of the house. The house was like a castle, turrets, and everything. It is still there, and is a true mansion. It has about 50 rooms and is 3 stories tall, and has a huge carriage house next to it. (I remember a black 1959 Cadillac in mint condition, covered in dust, parked inside the carriage house on blocks. It had big whitewall tires on it.)

Miss Hughes never married, she doted on us kids, and treated us as her own children. I have fond memories of our visits there, I would sleep in the turreted room on the northwest side of the house, when we would visit. I will never forget the open window, the smell of honeysuckle blooming outside, the cool sheets, and the heavy quilt that topped the bed. She would stuff us full of ice cream, and other goodies, while we watched television with her in the huge sitting room.

Thomas Hart Benton, lived on the next street west from Miss Hughes' house. I liked to draw and paint, and was thinking about going over to see Mr. Benton, I kept visualizing knocking on the door, and asking to see Mr. Benton. I never did. I was afraid he would get upset or something. I kick myself now, I'll bet he would have welcomed me in.

Years later, I did make it into the house, but in a different way. I dated one of the tour guides there, it had become a State Historic Site. When no one was around, I had the run of the place, I would even take naps on Tom's bed, and read his books. You will find my phone number with all of the other phone numbers on the wall next to the phone in the kitchen. (I don't know how it got there)


  1. Your post brought back my own memories of living in Kansas City, being on the fringe of the art scene, and buying my canoe to float the Niangua.
    Your paintings are luminous.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for the comment, and the compliment. Did you work in graphic arts? I am going to float the Niangua someday. John

  3. I help start Smith Kramer (was Art Connections now in Wesport) back in 81 and worked for Mid America Arts Alliance before that. We were art "facilitators," developing art exhibits and tours of those exhibits. I left in 90 to become a houseparent at a children's home which I continue doing today.
    I have enjoyed your online exhibition.

  4. I remember Smith Kramer. Wow, small world.

  5. monica peters hardyAugust 22, 2009 at 10:44 AM

    What a very cool childhood memory.

  6. Thanks Monica: Sorry for the slow response you know I have been busy.

  7. Jimmy was my cousin. My teacher in high school took us over to the Kansas City Art Institute while Benton was teaching. They were studying the human body. I shared the love of art, especially watercolor just like my cousin, Jimmy. I always admired his artistic talents and ability. Over the years, he, unlike myself, was able to pursue his dreams and made a career out of doing so.

  8. Your cousin is Jim Schmotz? That's terrific, do you know how I can contact him? I have lost my contact with him I would like to look him up.
    Steer him to my blog I respect his opinion. I would like to see what he is up to. Jim is a great guy. Thank you so much for your comment.
    My first day at the Art Institute was in High School. I was attending as a select group of KC area High Schoolers for a free summer semester. I was looking for Michael Walling's class as he was to be our instructor. One of the regular students steered me into a class that had a female model standing nude in it. Trying to embarrass me.