Walker Kirtland Hancock (1901-1998)
The prominent American sculptor Walker Kirtland Hancock was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1901. He spent a year studying at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University before transferring to study with the sculptor Charles Grafly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia from 1921 until 1925. Hancock was awarded the Prix de Rome fellowship, and studied at the American Academy in Rome from 1925 to 1928. Upon the recommendation of Grafly, Hancock was made head of the sculpture department at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1929.
In October 1942, Hancock was drafted into the Army where he joined the Medical Corps and trained as a medic at Camp Livingston in Louisiana. He was then transferred to Washington, DC for temporary duty at the Army War College to design the model for the Air Medal. Hancock had previously won the competition to design this medal and only after he was drafted and had spent time with the Medical Corps did the Army finally catch up with him. Upon the completion of the Air Medal design, Hancock was transferred into military intelligence with a promotion to first lieutenant. While serving seven months at the Pentagon, Hancock was quickly promoted to Captain. During this time, he learned of the MFAA and requested to be transferred into their ranks.
In late 1943, Hancock was shipped overseas to England and, along with other Monuments officers, wrote the handbooks to be used by U.S. soldiers during the invasion of Europe. Along with British Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, Hancock composed the directives to be signed by Gen. Eisenhower to give officers the authority to protect certain cultural monuments. Hancock was assigned to the French section and worked alongside the architect Capt. Bancel LaFarge preparing the “French Handbook” which listed monuments in France to be exempt from military use and to be considered for protection in the planning of future military operations.
After the Normandy invasions in June 1944, Hancock was sent to Paris with the U.S. First Army French Country Section as one of only ten MFAA officers attached to the British and American armies in northern Europe at the time. As part of this small group of MFAA officers in the field before war’s end, Hancock located numerous depositories of works of art, arranged for their safeguarding during combat, and evacuated their contents to collecting points run by the U.S. Army. In October 1944, he entered the devastated city of Aachen and inspected the severely damaged cathedral that previously housed Charlemagne’s relics. Hancock wrote, “For more than eleven centuries these massive walls had stood intact. That I should have arrived just in time to be the sole witness of their destruction was reassuringly inconceivable.”
As American troops crossed Germany en route to Berlin, hundreds of repositories were discovered. Hancock and fellow Monuments Man George Stout inspected a vast repository in a copper mine at Siegen in early April 1945 containing the relics of Charlemagne from Aachen Cathedral. Later that month, an American ordnance unit discovered the Bernterode munitions dump in Thuringia, which was also being used as a major repository. More than 500 meters down the main corridor and behind a brick wall, Monuments officers found a shrine to Germany’s former leaders including the coffin of Frederick the Great. Following this amazing discovery, Hancock and fellow Monuments officer Lt. Lamont Moore spent the summer of 1945 evacuating art objects from the Siegen mine for transfer to the Marburg Collecting Point, established under the direction of Hancock himself.
Following his discharge from the MFAA in late 1945, Hancock published an account of his MFAA duties in the article “Experiences of A Monuments Officer in Germany” in the May 1946 issue of College Art Journal. Also in 1946 he returned to his post as head of the sculpture department at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he remained until 1967. Hancock also served as sculptor-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1956 and 1957. One of his most important commissions was the Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial in Philadelphia. Completed in 1952 and depicting a soldier lifted up by the archangel of resurrection, Michael, it was built as a tribute to the 1,307 railroad employees who died during World War II. Other commissions include the U.S. Air Mail Flyers Medal and the Army and Navy Air Medals. His numerous portrait sculptures include a statue of General Douglas MacArthur at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a bust of President George H.W. Bush for the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. He also sculpted the Angel Relief at the Battle Monument Chapel in St. Avold, France, and the Flight Memorial at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
For his contributions during the war, Hancock was awarded the American Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the European, African, Middle Eastern Service Medal. For his artwork, he received the George D. Widener Memorial Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1925, the Herbert Adams Medal of Honor from the National Sculpture Society in 1954, the National Medal of Art conferred by the President in 1989, and the Medal of Freedom in 1990.
Hancock lived and worked in Gloucester, Massachusetts until his death on December 30, 1998.