Monument Men
Kelleher with Group, provided by The National Archives and Records Administration

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men were a group of 350 men and women from 13 nations who protected monuments and other cultural treasures from the destruction of World War II. In civilian life, many were museum directors, curators, artists, architects and educators who took on extraordinarily prominent roles in building some of the greatest cultural and educational institutions in the United States. These dedicated, passionate men and women tracked, located and ultimately returned thousands of artistic and cultural items stolen by Hitler and the Nazis. Their role in preserving cultural treasures was without precedent.


The Monuments Men of the Nelson-Atkins

The museum employed four of the Monuments Men and maintained strong ties with two more. Paul Gardner, the first director of the Nelson-Atkins, served as Director of the Fine Arts Section of the Allied Military Government in Italy. Laurence Sickman, another former director, served as a technical advisor on collections and monuments and was awarded the Legion of Merit for his war services.

Guarding our Treasures: The Nelson-Atkins as a Safe Haven Learn More


Paul Gardner
Photo courtesy Nelson-Atkins Archives
Paul Gardner (1894-1972)
Museum Director 1933-1953

World War I veteran, New York ballet dancer and ultimately a Lieutenant Colonel in World War II, Paul Gardner was the first director of the Nelson-Atkins, a post he held from 1933 until his retirement in 1953.

Arriving in Naples, Italy, in October 1943, Gardner served as director of the Fine Arts Section of the Allied Military Government for the liberated provinces of Italy. His wartime movements and adventures were well-documented by the Kansas City newspapers.

 

Laurence Sickman
Photo courtesy Nelson-Atkins Archives
Laurence Sickman (1906-1988)
Curator of Asian Art 1935-1973
Museum Director 1953-1977
Director Emeritus 1977-1985

Laurence Sickman was the Nelson-Atkins' first curator of Asian Art, serving in that role from 1935-1973. With Langdon Warner (see below), Sickman acquired for the Nelson-Atkins fragments of the relief Offering Procession of the Empress as Donor with Her Court.

A major in the Air Force during World War II, Sickman served as an intelligence officer during the war. After the Japanese surrender he was assigned to General Douglas MacArthur's Tokyo headquarters, where he served as a technical adviser on collections and monuments, making trips to China and Korea to assess the level of damage to monuments in those countries. For his war service, Sickman was awarded the Legion of Merit.

 


Photo detail courtesy Nelson-Atkins Archives
Patrick J. Kelleher (1917-1985)
Curator of European Art 1954-1959

Following World War II, Patrick J. Kelleher became the first Curator of European Art at the Nelson-Atkins from 1954-1959, during which time he acquired some of the museum's most significant European pieces, including Petrus Christus's Madonna and Child in an Interior and Claude Monet's Water Lilies.

During the war as the head of the Greater Hesse Division of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section, Kelleher helped recover some of the most famous artworks in the world, including the bust of Nefertiti now in the Neues Museum, Berlin, Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus now in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence and the Hungarian St. Stephen's Crown. He also worked at the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, where recovered artworks were brought for cataloguing and restitution.

 


Photo courtesy Toledo Museum of Art
Otto Wittmann, Jr. (1911-2001)
Curator of Prints 1933-1937

Otto Wittmann, Jr. served as the first curator of prints for the Nelson-Atkins from 1933-1937. During World War II, Wittmann's first job was interviewing draftees, a skill he would later put to use overseas. Toward the end of the war, he became the officer in charge of the Washington branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor of the CIA.

As part of the OSS Art Looting and Investigation Unit, Wittmann went to Europe to investigate Nazi art looting, specifically by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg in France. His most famous interview was with Hans Wendland, an art dealer instrumental in a number of major looted art transactions during the war. Wittmann was named an Officer, Legion of Honor of France; Officer, Order of Orange-Nassau of The Netherlands; and Commander, Order of Merit of Italy.

 


Photo courtesy James A. Reeds family
James A. Reeds (1921-2012)
Museum Docent and Library Volunteer

Kansas City native James A. Reeds served as a docent and library assistant at the Nelson-Atkins for several years and was present in 2007 for author Robert Edsel's lecture at the museum about the Monuments Men Foundation. Also in 2007, Reeds was awarded the National Medal of the Humanities by President Bush in a White House ceremony, along with other surviving Monuments Men.

During World War II, Reeds served with the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section in France in 1944. After the war, he was stationed in Germany at Headquarters U.S. Forces European Theater (HQ USFET) as chief clerk, where he responded to incoming messages regarding recovered or protected artworks and monuments.

 


Photo courtesy Harvard Art Museums Archives.
Langdon Warner (1881-1955)
Art Adviser for Asian Collection

Langdon Warner was a curator and lecturer at Harvard's Fogg Museum when he was hired as an adviser on Asian art to the Trustees of the Nelson-Atkins in 1930. In 1932, he travelled to China with Laurence Sickman (see above) to acquire works for the gallery. During World War II, Warner lobbied on behalf of cultural monuments in Asia. With other faculty and alumni from Harvard, he founded the American Defense – Harvard Group, a precursor of the Roberts Commission, which collected maps, lists and data pertaining to important cultural monuments, which were sent to commanders in the field. His successful efforts to persuade U.S. Army commanders not to bomb the culturally rich Japanese cities of Kyoto and Nara led to his reverence by the Japanese people. After the war, Warner served with the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section in Japan and Korea as a senior advisor.
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