The Monuments Men

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Louis F. Dlugosz ( 1915-2002 )

Sculptor and activist Louis F. Dlugosz was born into a large Polish family in Lackawanna, New York in 1915. He began experimenting with sculpture as early as elementary school, when his art teacher showed him how to carve and mold a bar of Ivory soap. After dropping out of school in the fifth grade, he worked as a janitor while continuing to mature in his craft. At the young age of nineteen, he began working at Bethlehem Steel in Pennsylvania, where he perfected his unique “pretzel-bending” sculptural style. By early 1940, Dlugosz began winning awards for his innovative style, including first prize at the 7th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York at the Albright Art Gallery and a one-man exhibition at the Nierendorf Gallery in New York. Highly praised by artists and critics alike, two of his sculptures were purchased by the Museum of Modern Art.

In October 1940, at the height of his career, Dlugosz enlisted in the U.S. Army. Instead of sold out exhibitions and critical acclaim, he found himself shoveling coal with the 106th Field Artillery unit at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama. He explained to the Buffalo Evening News in 1941, “some of the fellows in the neighborhood said they were going to join the Army, and urged me to join too so we could all go to camp together. I enlisted and found out later that they didn’t.” His circumstances soon improved, however, for he was stationed in Buckinghamshire, England as part of a covert operation designing scale models of the Normandy beaches in preparation for D-Day. In August 1942 he was transferred to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as an aerial photographer tasked with assessing damage sustained by cultural monuments in Darmstadt, Germany. While not much is known about his service as a Monuments Man, Dlugosz worked alongside Monuments Officer Lt. Clyde K. Harris at the MFAA Branch for Land Hessen in Germany.

Dlugosz was discharged in November 1945 but remained in Europe until 1947 to continue his studies of art. Settling in Paris, he exhibited at the Louvre. He then returned to New York to begin his first formal training in sculpture at the Buffalo Art Institute. Sadly, his years spent in the war and abroad had greatly diminished his notoriety as the next great American sculptor. Returning to his job at Bethlehem Steel, he continued to sculpt in relative obscurity. Nevertheless, he remained active in the art world in other respects. He was a regular fixture at political protests for various causes staged at the Museum of Modern Art, The Washington Gallery of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Paris Peace Talks during the Vietnam War. He even visited the Vatican to advocate on the behalf of imprisoned Polish Solidarity Trade Union leader, Lech Walesa.

Louis Dlugosz died suddenly and mysteriously on January 17, 2002 during a visit to Poland. His one of a kind life and career are the subject of the 2004 documentary “Clay Made Me Something: The Art of Being Louis Dlugosz.” Today, his sculpted works reside in numerous private collections and public museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, Smith College Museum, Syracuse Museum of Art, and the Royal Ontario Museum.