Clyde Kenneth Harris (1918-1958)
An accomplished artist and interior decorator, Clyde Kenneth Harris was born in the small town of Maud, Oklahoma on April 18, 1918.His father, Bert Harris, was vice president of the First National Bank in Maud and later in Konowa, Oklahoma. Harris earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Decoration from the University of Oklahoma in l939. There, he was President of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, a member of Phi Eta Sigma, secretary of Delta Phi Delta, and El Modjii president. He received a scholarship to study design in Paris, but, due to the war, instead attended Parson’s School of Design in New York City. Before entering the war, he worked for Warren Ramsey Interior Decoration in Oklahoma City and represented Mr. Ramsey in Amarillo, Texas.
In 1943 Harris enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a Captain in the Corps of Engineers, serving with the 1229th Engineers’ Fire Fighting Platoon.He was assigned to the MFAA Branch, U.S. Group Control Commission, on August 8, 1945 and posted to the Land Hessen detachment of the Office of Military Government as an MFAA Specialist Officer in Darmstadt, Germany. There, he was responsible for inspecting the repositories of the Darmstadt Landesmuseum and of the collections belonging to the family of Prince Ludwig von Hessen.
In December 1945 he evacuated part of the Hesse collection from Veste Coburg, the great tenth-century fortress in Coburg, to the family’s castle, Schloss Wolfsgarten, near Darmstadt. Included in this collection was Madonna of the Burgermeister Mayer (also known as the Darmstadt Madonna) by Hans Holbein the Younger. The recovery of the painting by Harris marked the end of a long and dramatic journey. During the war, the painting had first been sent from Darmstadt to safe storage in Silesia, Poland. It was then transported to Veste Coburg via Dresden, where it survived the devastating bombing of Dresden in February 1945. Once stored in the dungeon of Veste Coburg, it remained hidden despite Polish looting and the American bombardment of the castle. Lastly, the army truck Harris used to transport the painting home to Schloss Wolfsgarten caught on fire. Luckily, Harris and Moritz Landgraf von Hessen were able to extinguish the flames using dirt and sand, and the Darmstadt Madonna was returned home at last.
In January 1946 Harris was transferred to the MFAA Frankfurt Detachment as assistant to Monuments Man Capt. Everett P. Lesley, Jr. Lesley had recently been placed in charge of overseeing collecting points in Frankfurt and Offenbach, Germany. The Offenbach Archival Depot opened in July 1945. This five-floor depot was home to approximately 2.5 million looted books and manuscripts from over sixty libraries across Europe and Russia. Together, Lesley and Harris managed the depot until the arrival of its director, Monuments Man Capt. Seymour J. Pomrenze, on February 27, 1946. That same month, Harris arranged the transfer of forty cases of paintings belonging to the Städelsches Institut in Frankfurt to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point from the repository at Bad Wildungen.
While assisting the Hesse family in Darmstadt, Harris met Princess Cecilie Viktoria Anastasia Zeta Thyra Adelheid of Prussia, daughter of Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia and granddaughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The two soon fell in love and were married on June 21, 1949 at the Castle Burg Hohenzollern in Hechingen in the Black Forest Region. Their fairy-tale romance received international attention. The pair soon settled in Amarillo, Texas, where Harris established an interior decorating business. He designed and decorated many beautiful homes in Amarillo, inspired by European architecture and furnished with items imported from Europe.
Clyde Harris died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of only thirty-nine on March 2, l958 in Amarillo. Cecilie died in May l975 in Taunus, Germany, while visiting relatives. They had one daughter, Kira Alexandrine, born October 20, 1954.
Photo courtesy of the Harris Family (private collection).