Buffalo State's connection to Monuments Men

Feb 7, 2014

With Friday's opening of the movie The Monuments Men, featuring heroic individuals who saved millions of pieces of art during and after World War II, local connections to the art conservation movement are being highlighted. WBFO's Eileen Buckley found one such connection at Buffalo State College.

"Time to put a team together and do our best to protect building, bridges and art before the Nazis destroy it again," says actor George Clooney in the movie trailer for The Monuments Men. 

Clooney and actor Matt Damon appear in a powerful portrayal of a small group of men who boldly moved through enemy  territory retrieving artwork taken by the Nazi's.

"Too steal it back in a way, but there intent, of course, was to return it to its original owners," said Jonathan Thornton, professor of the Arts Conservation program at Buffalo State.

Buffalo State's Art Conservation program.
Credit Photo from Buffalo State's Website

The Monuments Men was first told in a book, describing the history of modern art conservation in Europe.  One of the men tied to story was Sheldon Keck. 

"Sheldon Keck was one of the first wave of Monuments Men that were in Europe working on this problem of looted art before war was over," said Thornton.

Keck first founded an art conservation program in Cooperstown, but later moved it to Buffalo State.

Thornton noted that Keck's colleague was killed while the two worked together to preserve art, but Keck survived the attack. Keck was rescued by infantry.

"They were all trained at Harvard and all recruited into this effort to save the art," said Thornton.

Soon Buffalo State will name its paintings conservation studio after Keck and his wife. The school's Art Conservation Program accepts just 10 students a year, but through the years professors have trained many students that move on to work at nationally known museums and cultural institutions.

“This type of work continues, and we faculty within the Art Conservation Department, are the new embodiment of that guard that started more than a half century ago,” said Patrick Ravines, associate professor and director of the Art Conservation Department.

“This movie sheds light on the important and unparalleled work that art conservators do every day.”