In a poignant Veterans Day moment for Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the Congressional Gold Medal she championed honoring World War II art rescuers is on display in Fort Worth.
The prestigious medal, the nation’s highest civilian award bestowed by Congress, is on exhibit from today until Nov. 15 at the Kimbell Art Museum. Entrance is free.
It was at a dinner at the Kimbell in 2006 that Granger first learned of the 350-member multinational military force of curators, historians and architects known as the Monuments Men who saved and protected art and cultural treasures from the Nazis.
“That the first public appearance of the Congressional Gold Medal will occur at the Kimbell is appropriate because had Kay Fortson not introduced me to congresswoman Kay Granger, the medal might well never have come into existence,” said Robert Edsel, the author of three books on the Monuments Men, who told Granger about the history of the art rescuers. Edsel and Granger came full circle Tuesday evening and spoke at a reception at the Kimbell at the opening of the exhibit. Kay Fortson, president of the board of directors of the Kimbell Art Foundation, also attended.
The important legacy of the Monuments Men is reflected on the walls of the great museums around the world.
Eric M. Lee, Kimbell director
When Granger learned of Edsel’s research, she set out to recognize the all-but-forgotten Monuments Men, an effort that got a boost when actor George Clooney was one of the producers who made and starred in the 2014 movie Monuments Men based on Edsel’s book of the same name. The movie brought attention to the history of the art rescuers and the more than 5 million pieces of art and artifacts they saved.
“The important legacy of the Monuments Men is reflected on the walls of the great museums around the world,” said Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum. “We owe them a great debt, and I congratulate them on this esteemed honor.”
The museum is displaying the medal alongside a piece from its own collection that was rescued by the Monuments Men: a bust of Isabella d’Este, 1474–1539, attributed to sculptor Gian Cristoforo Romano. Edsel found a picture of the bust as it was being retrieved from the Altaussee Salt Mine in Austria.
Congress approved the medal last year, and it was presented to a few of the surviving Monuments Men on Oct. 22 at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol’s Emancipation Hall presided over by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in his last medal event before retiring. There are six surviving Monuments Men. The gold medal will be kept by the Smithsonian Institution.
Edsel, who lives in Dallas, said he feels very connected to the Kimbell. “For someone who once lived in Florence, Italy, the Kimbell has become my home-away-from-home museum,” he told McClatchy.