In November, 2014, during the second month of a year-long residency in Kansas City, I rode my bike to Belleview Avenue along roads distinctly lacking in bicycle lanes to the home of a total stranger whom a friend had asked to let me photograph her while she tossed things into the mini-dumpster my friend had noticed during one of her habitual walks. As has been my experience in Kansas City during two stints living here, warm Midwestern hospitality reigned and not only was I given free reign photographically, but I was also offered access to bathroom facilities and even fed lunch. While I ate out on the porch, my host read to me from a book she kept outside due to its slightly moldy smell, about a male relative of hers who hired prostitutes to rough up temperance activist -- or terrorist, depending on your perspective -- Carrie Nation. (Apparently gentlemen don't hit women; they outsource that dirty work.)
Never have I had a more cheerful, willing, and, dare I say, beatific collaborator, who allowed me to photograph her while tossing brick after brick into her "Bin There Dump That" brand dumpster with gleeful aplomb. I returned several days later, in hopes of rounding out my photodocumentation with images of the full dumpster's removal. When the driver's estimated time of arrival had come and gone, my host urged me to go next door to the Thomas Hart Benton house, where I was greeted by an ebullient park ranger with encyclopedic knowledge about Benton and his personal, professional, and material lives. I had the luxury of a tour that stretched toward three hours before I was summoned with word that the dumpster company had finally made its appearance. (scroll down to continue reading)
While the following images taken in Benton's carefully preserved studio and home are perhaps as diametrically opposed as anything could be to the notion of "letting go," I include them here nonetheless because my experiences during my tour and the images I took are inextricably linked to rife happenstance synchronicities that have fed my "Goods Riddance" project. Also, I learned that over and over, Benton's studio was the site of lettings go. In addition, of course to the easel paintings and murals Benton sold and thus "let go," I learned that Rita Piacenza Benton managed to fund the household in large part by gathering drawings she would find on the floor of Benton's studio each evening and selling them off.
My access to both properties on Belleview Avenue traces back to the 20th Century, when I was teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute, where my friend the avid walker became a mentor to me, and where Thomas Hart Benton -- who taught myriad artists including Jackson Pollock and Fairfield Porter as well as his wife, Rita -- chaired the Painting Department, of which I was interim chair for one semester (during which I did some administrative writing that got me into some lukewarm water). Though Benton left the Art Institute under a cloud related to homophobia, there is now a bronze sculpture on campus depicting his slight frame that is a bit sturdier than the cardboard cutout that greets visitors to the Benton home today.