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Benton mural model Harold Brown dies at 86

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Harold “Brownie” Brown, the model for the baby in Thomas Hart Benton’s famed mural adorning the House Lounge, passed away this week. 

Brown died Monday at his Jefferson City home at the age of 86, according to his obituary. The last known surviving individual depicted in the mural, he traveled to the statehouse in August to visit the artwork and was escorted by his daughter.

“It’s been an honor,” Brown told reporters during his visit. “I like doing this. I like to expose people to the story. … You think that you’re too busy to do a lot of the things that you should do until it’s too late. If there’s something you want to do, you’ve got to do it while you’re able to.”

Brown happened upon the opportunity to go down in Missouri history at the age of 1 when the artist paid a visit to his family’s Jefferson City home. His father, who had been appointed Missouri’s adjutant general, was being sketched for the mural when Benton noticed the child and asked if he could be included in the painting. 

Most of the 235 faces depicted in “The Social History of Missouri” were modeled after real people Benton met. The artist felt the mural would be incomplete without a baby, according to Brown. His family agreed, and Brown became a part of Missouri’s history along with his father. 

The original sketches were rolled up and placed in a trunk in his family home, and Brown began using them to spread the history of Benton’s work in his adulthood. The sketches took on a special meaning for Brown as he grew up; his father died the year the mural was unveiled, but Benton’s work immortalized him in an iconic tribute to history. 

Brown spent much of his life in the capital city, owning the first Zesto Drive-In in Jefferson City for a time. 

Visitations for Brown will be held Friday and Saturday at Freeman Mortuary, with a celebration of life set to follow Saturday morning.