Gordon Waverly Gilkey (1912-2000)
Gordon Waverly Gilkey was an artist and professor of art for more than 50 years. He was born in Scio, Oregon in 1912 and attended the University of Oregon, where he was the first student to earn a Fine Arts degree in printmaking.
During World War II, Gilkey served in the United States Army Air Corps and advised on cultural monuments to be spared from bombing. Following the Allied victory, Gilkey was named Chief of the War Department’s German War Art Program from 1945 to 1947. His primary responsibility included gathering German and Nazi propaganda art. In his report on “German War Art,” Gilkey explained his job more fully: he “provided for the collection, processing, preservation, and control of war paintings, photographs, maps, trophies, relics, and objects of actual or potential historical interest or value produced during the present war…requesting the collection of available paintings, watercolors, engravings, and drawings showing troops activities, views of battle fields, military installations, industrial or home front activities produced by German and Italian artists during the present war…all works of art relating or dedicated to the perpetuation of German militarism or Nazism will be closed permanently and taken into custody.”
Like the Monuments Men, Gilkey found many pictures in abandoned trains, homes, salt mines, and other hiding places. Much like Monuments Man Lt. Bernard Taper, he investigated leads, interrogated suspects, and spent many months hunting down these various works.The primary collections of art were found in Schloss Ringberg in Bavaria; Bad Aussee, Austria; and the Haus der Deutschen Kunst and the basement of the Führerbau in Munich.
Gilkey also organized the collection, created indexes and files, preserved and restored paintings needing immediate attention, and packed them for shipment. In December 1946 he organized an exhibit of 103 war pictures at Frankfurt’s Staedel Museum, which was viewed by 1500 Allied servicemen and members of the press. Ultimately, 8,722 objects were shipped to the United States (Army Headquarters at Pentagon) on March 20, 1947. For his work, Gilkey was knighted by France and received honors from Italy, Germany and Sweden.
Following his return to the United States, Gilkey became a professor and later dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University. Upon his retirement in 1977, he donated his expansive collection of prints and drawings to the Portland Museum of Art. He became the museum’s curator of Prints and Drawings and Printmaker in Residence at Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland. In 1993, he and his wife founded the Vivian and Gordon Gilkey Center for the Graphic Arts at the Portland Museum of Art.
Gordon Gilkey died in 2000, but remains well-remembered by his former colleagues and students.