The Monuments Men

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Dorothy G. Sheperd Payer ( 1916-1992 )

During her lifetime, museum curator Dorothy G. Shepherd Payer was considered the leading American scholar in the history of ancient near Eastern and Islamic art. She earned two degrees in Oriental Civilizations from the University of Michigan including an A.B. in 1939 and an M.A. in 1940. She then attended New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, where she completed her Ph.D. in 1944. Her long and successful curatorial career began in 1942 as an assistant curator of decoration at what is now the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City.

Shepherd’s strong knowledge of art made her the perfect recruit for service as a Monuments Officer. Between 1945 and 1947 she travelled to London, Luxembourg, Frankfurt and Berlin with the Office of War Information for the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Division of the U.S. Military Government in Germany. She would later be transferred to assignments in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Stuttgart, Munich, and SHAEF headquarters in Berlin. During one such assignment she was a statistics specialist in charge of examining the records of the various repositories of art in order to correct administrative discrepancies and to improve the flow of restitution for countless works of art.

After returning to the United States in 1947, Shepherd worked at the Cleveland Museum of Art for over thirty-four years. She began as assistant curator of textiles before rising up the ranks to Curator of Textiles and Near Eastern Art in 1954 and Chief Curator in 1979. Meanwhile, she published numerous works on the history of textiles including a three-volume anthology of medieval textiles. In addition to teaching art history as an adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, she was a frequent lecturer of Islamic art and architecture at universities in the U.S. and abroad. A research grant from the Ford Foundation funded her study of Hispano-Islamic textiles in Spain.

Years after her work as a Monuments Officer, Dorothy Shepherd remained committed to the conservation of art through research and public education. She was a member of the Archaeology Society of America, the Directing Council of Centre International d’Etudes des Textiles Anciens in France, served on the board of governors of the American Research Center in Egypt and was a trustee of the American Institute of Iranian Studies.

Shepherd retired from her long museum career upon the death of her husband, the Austrian architect Ernst Payer, in 1981 and moved to Florida and then Asheville, North Carolina, where she died in 1992.