An Intimate Portrait


On Saturday, Dec. 3, Columbia will be the site of a special lecture and screening of a new biopic docudrama,“The American Artist: The Life & Times of George Caleb Bingham.”

Produced by Emmy-winning Wide Awake Films of Kansas City, the film chronicles the life of Bingham, Arrow Rock native and renowned nineteenth century painter. It had its premiere in October at the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre.

The film begins with Bingham’s childhood. A self-taught painter, his natural talent, relentless ambition and strategic friendships propelled him into the world of politics. He was a successful artist, politician and family man … but it all fell apart. His home, family, career and life’s work were all but lost as the American Civil War split his world in two. A century after his death, George Caleb Bingham’s work has not only been rediscovered, it is celebrated as a national treasure. An America that might otherwise have been forgotten is preserved through his life’s work.

Viewers will embark on an hour-long journey with vivid recreations of Bingham’s life, combined with interviews with some of America’s top art curators. The film also examines many of Bingham’s best paintings filmed from original canvases in ultra-high-definition (4K) video. Three years in the making, “The American Artist” makes the case for Bingham as one of the preeminent American painters of his — or any — generation, along with the likes of Winslow Homer, Norman Rockwell and Thomas Hart Benton.

Friends of Arrow Rock, a group dedicated to preserving its town’s past, developed the idea for the film in 2012 and presented it to Wide Awake, which quickly jumped on board.

“The heart of the Friends of Arrow Rock mission is to share the Missouri frontier story,” says Friends of Arrow Rock Executive Director Sandy Selby. “George Caleb Bingham is, of course, a central character in this town’s rich history and a film makes his story accessible to people who have never set foot in Arrow Rock or seen his work in a museum. We’re excited to shine a light on a great American artist and Arrow Rock’s favorite son.”

The film follows Bingham from his early life to the height of his career in the 1840s and ‘50s. During the Civil War, he served as state treasurer for the provisional government in Jefferson City. The film looks at his paintings as a force that shaped the American identity by documenting the optimism of antebellum America, the turmoil of Missouri during the war and the newfound democracy during Reconstruction.

George BinghamBingham had strong ties to Columbia through his lifelong friend and patron James Rollins, the Columbia politician and lawyer known as the “Father of the University of Missouri.” Rollins helped Bingham gain portrait commissions and helped him get a position late in life as the University’s first art professor. In addition, the State Historical Society of Missouri houses some of Bingham’s most famous paintings, including General Order No. 11, and its curator, Joan Stack, is an authority on Bingham and appears in the film, Selby says.

The free screening begins at 1:30 p.m. in Jesse Wrench Auditorium in the Memorial Student Union at 518 Hitt St. It will follow a free lecture by Charles E. Valier at 10 a.m. in the main gallery of the State Historical Society of Missouri at 1020 Lowry St. Valier is a St. Louis attorney who worked with Senator Kit Bond to save Bingham’s sketches from being auctioned off separately. A reception will be held immediately after Valier’s lecture, prior to the film screening.

You can learn more about the film at and more about the State Historical Society of Missouri at