Missouri Courthouses: Focus on Digital Artistry in Ashby-Hodge

Photographer Jerry Benner presents exhibition

CourthouseNodaway County Courthouse - Maryville

Visitors to The Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art at CMU this summer will be treated to a special exhibition featuring artistic digital representations of what are often referred to as the architectural icons of Missouri’s 114 county seats of government – the county courthouses. The show also includes the historic St. Louis Courthouse near the Gateway Arch.

The exhibition, titled “Courthouses of Missouri: A Photographic Study by Jerry Benner,” will open May 27 and continue through July 24. The Gallery will be open from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Works from other photographers and the Gallery’s permanent collection also will be on display. The artist will be present Sunday, June 1 for a reception in his honor. For more information or to arrange a special tour, contact Gallery Curator Denise Gebhardt, at 660-248-6304 or by email at dgebhard@centralmethodist.edu.

Artist-photographer Jerry Benner of Ferguson, Mo., is a 1966 CMU alumnus who came back to campus as an adjunct professor of photography in 2001 and taught until retiring in 2012. This latter career followed an earlier retirement that capped a 36-year career as an educator in the Parkway School District of St. Louis, where Benner taught English, social studies, photography, photojournalism, and audio and visual production. In addition to his B.A. in Political Science from Central, Benner also holds an M.A. in Communications from St. Louis University. He met his wife, Ruth, when they were students at Central.

The courthouse photography exhibition is the culmination of a 10-year project that began in 2004 motivated partially by Benner’s weekly road trips from home to CMU at Fayette and back while teaching photography at the University. [“My wife and I] love to travel; we are both lifelong residents of Missouri,” Benner says, adding that they decided “what could be better than to visit all 114 counties, plus the city of St. Louis, and photograph the symbol of each county, the courthouse.”

The photographic project began with the historic Howard County Courthouse and those in surrounding counties in the Boonslick Region of mid-Missouri in 2005 and took until 2013. It went “from the hills of central Missouri to the plains of the northern counties to the swamps and cotton fields of the southeast to the Ozarks,” Benner says. “This is a diverse state. I cannot imagine any other state with this diversity of life styles and terrain.”

Benner’s artistic approach to the project was to photograph each courthouse “in the most flattering manner.” The raw images were then processed in the digital-world equivalent of a darkroom, using Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. In some cases parked cars, debris on lawns and other intrusive elements were removed or altered. “Therefore, the image you see is probably more ideal than the actual structure,” Benner explains.   

Benner’s exhibition is a masterful sequel to another recent exhibition at The Ashby-Hodge Gallery in the summer of 2011, when the works of highly acclaimed Missouri artist Billyo O’Donnell were displayed. Arranged by former Gallery Curator Dr. Joseph Geist, now supervisor of Gallery collections, the show was titled “Plein Air Paintings Representing 114 Counties in Missouri by Billyo O’Donnell.” It featured landscape oil-on-canvas paintings of rural scenes and rustic structures found in every county of the state.

Visitors to the Gallery on July 20 will be treated to a special event, the Summer meeting of the Boonslick Historical Society, which is open to everyone who wishes to attend. Gallery Curator Denise Gebhardt is secretary of the Boonslick Historical Society Board of Directors, and she and Dr. Geist will be on hand to comment about the Benner exhibition and the Gallery.


Posted May 28, 2014