The Monuments Men

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Richard Foster Howard ( 1902-1987 )

Born in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1902, Richard Foster Howard began his college studies at Harvard, where he received a Bachelor of Science in 1924. He spent a few years teaching English and Mathematics at preparatory schools in Pennsylvania before returning to Harvard for graduate studies. There, he studied art history, technology of art, physics of light and color, and museum administration under Paul J. Sachs, well-known professor and future Chairman of the American Defense- Harvard Group. In addition, Howard studied chemical microscopy in connection with the analysis of paints during a summer course at Cornell University.

Such an extensive education prepared Howard for a successful career as a respected museum administrator. He stayed on at Harvard after graduation in 1931 to serve as an assistant researcher in the Department of Technical Research at the Fogg Art Museum. The following year, he was awarded a Carnegie Research Fellowship at the Yale Institute of Human Relations. In this position, he served as the staff psychologist at the Pennsylvania Museum of Fine Arts in Philadelphia observing how several variables such as the number of entrances to an exhibition and the manner of display for works of art affected museum visitors. He later published a thesis entitled “Problems of Labelling in Art Cataloguing” as well as articles on museum security.

In December 1935 Howard was appointed Director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Before travelling to Dallas, however, he spent a month in Chicago collaborating with Dr. Robert Harshe, Director of the Art Institute of Chicago. Together with Harshe, Howard began plans for the grand Texas Centennial Exhibition set to open the following year. Arriving in Dallas in mid-January 1936, Howard immediately set about transforming the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts into a highly regarded institution. His achievements during his term as Director included the construction of the new museum at Fair Park, the establishment of an education department, and the founding of the museum’s library. The Texas Centennial of 1936 proved a great success with over 154,000 visitors in less than six months. Howard held the museum’s first exhibition devoted solely to African-American artists in 1939 and started the Texas General, an annual juried exhibition of Texas artists, in 1940. Meanwhile, he gave lectures on art history at nearby Southern Methodist University and served on the Board of Trustees of the American Federation of Arts.

Howard remained at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts until he was called to active duty with the U.S. Army Field Artillery in early 1942. He trained extensively at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Fort Lewis, Washington, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He quickly rose through the ranks from an officer in Battery B, Third Battalion, to G-2 Intelligence officer and eventually lieutenant colonel in command of four battalions. In 1944 his unit, the 787th Field Artillery Battalion, was sent overseas and stationed in Congleton, England. His battalion advanced through Weymouth, England to La Havre, France and then through Rouen to Muenchen-Gladbach, Germany. By early 1945, they had advanced to the Elbe River, just forty-five miles outside of Berlin.

Howard returned home to Hoboken, New Jersey for terminal leave in time for Christmas in 1945. The following January, he was contacted by the Roberts Commission and asked to return to Germany as part of the MFAA. Howard accepted with the condition that his wife and children be allowed to accompany him. He arrived in Berlin in July 1946 as Deputy Chief of the MFAA Office of Military Government for Germany (OMGUS). A few months later, he succeeded Maj. Bancel LaFarge as Chief. In this position, Howard oversaw the activities of the collecting points and the continued restitution of millions of looted works of art and other cultural treasures to their countries of origin. In recognition for his services with the MFAA, he was named an Officer of the Order of the White Lion of Bohemia by the Czechoslovakian government and awarded the Stell della Solidarieta Italiana by Italy.

After returning home to the United States in 1949, Howard was named Director of the Des Moines Art Center. In 1951, he became the founding Director of the Birmingham Museum of Art, where he remained until his retirement in 1975. Much like his great achievements in Dallas, Howard’s innovations in Birmingham elevated the museum to a respected cultural institution. He remained committed to furthering art education for the public. In Birmingham, he created “Artmobile,” a traveling art exhibit which brought art to local public schools.

Upon his death in 1987, Richard Howard was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. For his military service in Lemberg, France, he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action.