The Monuments Men

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Ardelia Ripley Hall ( 1899-1979 )

Research about the Monuments Men invariably involves the work of one devoted woman, Ardelia Ripley Hall. Housed in the collection of the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, “The Ardelia Hall Collection” includes the records of the Roberts Commission, field reports of the Monuments Men, minutes from international conferences, over 50,000 photographic property cards from the Munich Central Collecting Point, and much more. This integral collection of records was named in honor of Hall, who laboriously organized and maintained them while working at the U.S. Department of State both during and after World War II.

Ardelia Ripley Hall was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts on December 4, 1899. After completing a B.A. degree from Smith College in 1922, Hall worked as a research assistant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She completed graduate courses in Chinese language and history at Columbia University and New York University, ultimately earning an M.A. from Columbia in 1927. In the years prior to World War II she worked a series of jobs, including a Social Science Abstracts writer at Columbia University, curatorial assistant in the Department of Asiatic Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and researcher of Asian art at the Harvard-Yenching Institute.

In April 1943, due to her extensive knowledge of Asian art, Hall was hired by the Far East Division of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Her task included researching and compiling reports on socioeconomic conditions in the Far East to be used in matters of state between the United States, Japan, and China. In October 1944 she was granted temporary leave to assist the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with the reinstallation of its collection of Asian art, which had been evacuated to following the outbreak of war. Hoping to secure an early position with the Roberts Commission, she began unofficially advising The Committee for the Protection of Cultural Treasures in the War Areas under the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) on the creation of maps of culturally significant sites in China. Back at the OSS, she was transferred to the Radio Intercepts Section, Far East Division, Secret Intelligence Branch.

Hall joined the Roberts Commission in November 1945 as Consultant in the Division of Cultural Cooperation in the U.S. Department of State for Japan and Korea. From her desks at both the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art, she acted as a liaison between the Roberts Commission and MFAA Officers in the Pacific Theater, namely Monuments Man Lt. Comdr. George L. Stout, and Maj. Lawrence Sickman. Hall prepared reports, lists, charts, and tables detailing all manner of subjects relating to works of art, monuments, archives, and other national treasures in the Far East.

From 1946 to 1964, Hall served as the Fine Arts and Monuments Adviser to the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs, whose office had assumed the duties of the recently disbanded Roberts Commission. A relentless advocate for the return of looted works of art, she remarked in 1951, “For the first time in history, restitution may be expected to continue for as long as works of art known to have been plundered during a war continue to be rediscovered.” To this end, she maintained lists of objects that remained missing, republished a Roberts Commission circular on looted art, and urged all museums, university art faculties, and art dealers to be on the lookout for looted items. As a result, sixty-six cases involving over 1,600 works of art were eventually reported to the U.S. Department of State.

Although Hall’s legacy deals primarily with WWII-era cultural heritage restitution, she was also active during and after the Korean War. In 1954 she traveled to Korea as a representative of the U.S. Department of State to survey museums, temples, monasteries, and other cultural monuments. In South Korea, she personally returned a tenth-century sword to the royal household in Seoul, which had been stolen by an American soldier.

Ardelia Hall died in Greenfield, Massachusetts in September 1979. Today, the original records contained in The Ardelia Hall Collection can be viewed at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. Microfilm duplicates are also housed in the Photographic Archives of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, California.