Art and the War at Home

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Buffalo’s Monument Men exhibition (on view through April 6, 2014) celebrates three of our past employees—Andrew C. Ritchie, Charles P. Parkhurst, and Patrick J. Kelleher—who helped recover and return art that had been stolen by the Nazis during World War II.

Newspaper clippings—preserved in scrapbooks in the collection of the museum’s G. Robert Strauss, Jr. Memorial Library—show that the museum also helped fight the war on the “home front” through a series of lectures, initiatives, events and exhibitions  designed to educate and entertain Buffalo’s citizenry. 

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In May 1942, the Albright-Knox was the first US museum to adopt a special war-time schedule. The museum stayed open late to provide much-needed relaxation to Buffalonians who faced food and gas rationing, the labor demands of homeland production, and the general stress of war.



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Under director Gordon B. Washburn, the museum began to organize special war-time lectures and programs. One of these addressed the ways that artists could put their “special talents and skills” to use in defense work.

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Other programs considered the role art played in the ennobling of the spirit and the preservation of democracy. Washburn noted in his address to the 1942 graduating class of the Albright Art School that a world at war has a “great need for artists,” who, “like doctors and nurses,” have dedicated themselves to “the cause of man’s salvation, to the freedom of man from enslavement.” Washburn reminded his audience that it was incumbent upon them to use art to “help others understand the world in which we live.” 

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In June 1942,  the Albright hosted Melvyn Douglas, film star and head of the Arts Division of the Office of Civilian Defense. Douglas moderated a panel discussion on the theme “What Kind of Culture are We Fighting For?,” which concluded that the ability of the arts and humanities to inspire and represent humanity was as essential to winning the war as practical and vocational learning.
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Shortly after he succeeded Washburn as director in July 1942, Andrew C. Ritchie debuted a slate of war-time programs, including weekly concerts  to be held during the summer months on the museum’s lawn. 

The concerts proved enormously successful, and would be repeated every summer through 1945, by which time Berlin was a “city of ruins,” and combat in Europe had come to a close.

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As an officer in the local chapter of the Red Cross, Andrew C. Ritchie also led the Albright-Knox’s involvement in an art therapy program based in Fort Niagara. The “Arts and Skills” program was designed not only to occupy and stimulate convalescent soldiers during their recovery, but also to cultivate skills and develop talents that might prove useful in gaining enmployment after the war. 

Check back on Monday, March 3, for the next installment in our “Art and the War at Home” series, and visit the exhibition Buffalo’s Monuments Men, on view now.

Images courtesy of the G. Robert Strauss, Jr. Memorial Library, Gallery Archives, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. © 2014 Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

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