Sen. Mike Bernskoetter’s Legislative Column for Feb. 20, 2020

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And if you spend any amount of time in the Missouri State Capitol, I’m sure you’ll find those words and then some. Adorned with decorative stained glass and impressive carvings, our State Capitol is one of the most beautiful capitol buildings in the country. Particularly striking are the murals located throughout the Capitol. These murals depict Missouri’s natural beauty, its history and important industries such as agriculture and trade. Collectively, the artwork of the Capitol tells the story of Missouri. But there’s one piece of art that I would argue does it better than the rest.

In the House Lounge on the third floor, you will find the “Social History of Missouri” mural, painted by Missouri native Thomas Hart Benton. Stretching across the lounge’s four walls, Benton’s mural shows Missouri’s early heritage as a frontier hotspot for fur-trading, to the challenges of statehood and the eventual rise of industrialization and our state’s metropolitan areas. The wraparound artwork is a grand and impressive testament to Missouri history. But tucked within that history, is some good and bad.

After Benton revealed the mural in 1936, it was subject of much criticism. It was controversial, in part, because it displayed ordinary people, living their everyday lives. It was also controversial for its clear depiction of the horrors of slavery and the damages of the Civil War. This was not what the legislators expected when they commissioned Benton. They thought they’d get a glamourous look at Missouri and some of its influential politicians. Instead, what they got was the story of Missouri – the good, the bad and the ugly – told by the people of Missouri. Some considered painting over the mural with white paint, but luckily they decided against it. Today, the “Social History of Missouri” remains one of the most striking pieces of artwork in the Capitol and one of the most visited.

The Legislative Library, located in the Capitol, recently held a presentation discussing the Benton mural and how it represents Missouri and its people, as part of their Capitol Conversations lecture series. This series is meant to share the history of the Capitol and the General Assembly with the public. The goal is to help educate, to pass on knowledge, and ultimately, to preserve our history. I think that’s noble.

I’m a strong supporter of preserving Missouri history. While other parts of Missouri’s history aren’t threatened by a coat of white paint, they still need our help in being preserved for future generations. That’s why we’re working to pass Senate Bill 586. This bill was recently approved by the Senate’s Economic Development Committee and seeks to create a tax credit program to incentivize donations to restoration and preservation projects throughout the Capitol Complex area. Important, historical buildings such as the State Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion and the Supreme Court Building, all need support to be preserved. I believe SB 586 can help provide the funding to achieve this, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this bill to the governor’s desk.

Please feel free to contact my office at (573) 751-2076. For information about my committee assignments or sponsored legislation, please visit my official Missouri Senate website at