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)