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Fascinating Rivers

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Published on: Feb. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

School of the Ozarks for lunch. And by the time I started floating, Tom was famous. People would line the banks to get a look at him."

Benton's drawing,"Buffalo River - Float trip with jon boats in 1964. Camping for lunch and a nap," offers a glimpse of what a Benton float trip was like.

"We'd float for three or four days," Callison says, "and each day until late afternoon. There would be four or five people in the party. And, whenever Tom would see something that interested him, we would stop. Tom liked to paint the same point in a stream at different times of day. He studied the place in different light. He'd set up an easel and draw. Others of us fished or whatever."

Bill Rogers, now a retired conservation agent, got acquainted with Thomas Hart Benton in the 1960s. Between 1962 and 1966, he went on four or five canoe trips with Benton.

"Benton had a knack for picking out places where light and shadows played in interesting ways," says Rogers. "He really liked the Upper Jacks Fork area because it was more remote."

"And Benton always had a vision about his work," says Rogers. "He knew what he wanted to draw. He'd sketch without looking at the pad. And he was fast, working with charcoal. But there was nothing haphazard about it. He counted on me to keep the canoe perfectly still, and when he was ready to move, he'd wave his hand."

The first meeting between Benton and Woodcock was born of anything but quiet. The year was 1936. Woodcock was a young accountant filing papers for the Missouri Secretary of State. In a lounge at the capitol, someone told him, "There's an old dude painting murals on the rotunda."

Woodcock went to see the work in progress. As Woodcock was admiring what he saw, Benton got down from his scaffold, walked up behind Woodcock and tapped him on the shoulder.

Benton said, "You can criticize all you want, but it won't do you a damn bit of good." To which, Woodcock replied, "I can make you a cup of coffee, but I'm not good enough to criticize."

Woodcock and Benton sat down to coffee and a long, long talk that launched decades of friendship, lasting until Benton's death in 1974. "I can't draw a straight line," Woodcock says. "I don't think we'd have been as good of friends if I were an

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