The Monuments Men

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Stefan Peter Munsing ( 1915-1994 )

Stefan Peter Munsing was born in St. Francis, Missouri on February 15, 1915 to a family of immigrants from Lemberg in Galicia (today, Lviv in western Ukraine). He studied art at Wayne State University in Detroit and Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he befriended several future prominent artists and architects, including Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Maja Grotell. Munsing then moved to New York, studying at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey and working as a consultant for such prominent designers as Hans Kroll and Norman Bel Geddes.

Munsing enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943 and served in Europe with the 42nd Infantry Division. For his brave service, he was awarded two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. He worked as an editor of U.S. Information Magazine before joining the MFAA as an Intelligence Officer with the Office of Military Government, U.S. Zone (OMGUS) in Karlsruhe, Germany. In October 1948 Munsing succeeded Monuments Man H. Stewart Leonard as Chief of the MFAA Section of the Office of Military Government for Bavaria, supervising ongoing restitution operations at the Munich Central Collecting Point. Through the collecting point’s doors passed hundreds of thousands of looted works of art and other cultural objects which were sorted, catalogued, restored, and eventually restituted to the countries from which they had been stolen.

In addition to his efforts at the collecting point, Munsing served as the director of the nearby Amerika Haus (commonly referred to as the U.S. Information Center). His skill as a designer and graphic artist formed the background for much of his success as a program director and curator during the planning of many successful exhibitions. Munsing designed posters and catalogues for such notable exhibitions as Kunstschaffen in Deutschland (July 1949), Blevins Davis Preis (February-March 1950), and ZEN 49 (April 1950). Similarly, his close collaborations with the Bavarian State Painting Collections, the State Print Collection of Munich, the Bavarian National Museum, the manuscript department of the Bavarian State Library, and the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg, among others, helped shape postwar cultural policy in Germany.

At the conclusion of his service with the MFAA, Munsing accepted a position as the Cultural Affairs Advisor for Bavaria for the U.S. Department of State. In 1955 he became the cultural officer for the American Embassy in London, maintaining a presence in prominent art circles and directing exhibitions of contemporary American artists. He later undertook similar duties as the cultural affairs attaché for Denmark. One of Munsing’s most notable accomplishments was the direction of the U.S. State Department’s Art in Embassies program (AIE), a cross-cultural initiative devoted to curating exhibitions and permanent collections for U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. In addition, Munsing assisted the National Museum of American Art (today, the Smithsonian American Art Museum) in establishing their first collection of contemporary art. Upon his retirement from the State Department in 1976, Munsing worked as a consultant to the American Association of Museums (today, the American Alliance of Museums).

Stefan Munsing died of cancer in Washington, D.C. on December 3, 1994.