The Monuments Men

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Kennet Harry Propst ( 1915 - 2000 )

Artist and advertising executive Kenneth Harry Propst was born in New York on February 5, 1915. After completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Syracuse University, he spent four months painting and researching art in England and France. Particularly adept at watercolors, Propst worked as a designer at John Little Studio, a Long Island-based company known for its fabrics and wallpapers inspired by abstract expressionist designs.

During World War II, Propst served as an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Shortly before the end of hostilities, Propst accepted an assignment as the first Monuments Man in charge of the MFAA Branch of the Office of Military Government for Bavaria, Regierungsbezirk Oberfranken and Mittelfranken. Propst conducted inspections of churches, castles, and repositories in the area surrounding Ansbach and Nuremberg, including Schloss Plassenburg, a grand castle located above the town of Kulmbach. The castle served as the repository for paintings and objects belonging to the Germanischen Museum of Nuremburg, the Residenz Museum of Munich, the castles of Wurzburg, Bamberg, and Bayreuth, as well as both the Bavarian State and the town of Kulmbach. Toward the end of the war, the castle was used as a makeshift home for hundreds of displaced persons seeking shelter from the destruction. Between April 22 and May 17, the number of refugees increased from 885 to 1,838. Propst’s detachment didn’t reach the castle until late July, by which time the castle had been ransacked by the refugees and local German townspeople. Immediately upon his arrival, Propst appointed both civilian and military guards to guard the entrances to ensure the safety of the treasures within.

Following his return to the United States in early 1946, Propst became a familiar figure at art events in Syracuse, New York. He often conducted tours and published reviews of art exhibitions at the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts (today, the Everson Museum of Art), showcased his own watercolors and acrylic collages in local galleries, and led public workshops on painting. In addition to his artistic endeavors, Propst worked as a partner in the advertising firm Osborn-Propst and served for many years in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He ultimately retired with the rank of Colonel.

Kenneth Propst died in Syracuse, New York on November 30, 2000.