Charles Percy Parkhurst (1913-2008)
Prominent art historian and museum director, Charles Percy Parkhurst was born in Columbus, Ohio on January 23, 1913. He earned a Bachelor’s degree from Williams College in Massachusetts before spending two years in Alaska teaching music, coaching basketball, and constructing roads and bridges in Denali National Park with the Alaska Road Commission. Returning to his studies, he completed an M.A. from Oberlin College in 1938 and an M.F.A. from Princeton in 1941. He worked as a registrar and curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In 1942 he worked alongside Lamont Moore, John D. Skilton, and Craig H. Smyth, future Monuments Men all, with the evacuation of the Gallery’s most important works of art to safety at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.
After an unsuccessful attempt to join the Quartermaster Corps Arctic Troops in Alaska, Parkhurst enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1943. He served as a gunnery officer in Sicily, Italy, Panama, and Australia before being transferred to the MFAA in April 1945. He reported to SHAEF headquarters along with fellow Monuments Men Lt. Cdr. J. Hamilton Coulter, Lt. Cdr. Thomas Carr Howe, Jr. and Lt. Craig Hugh Smyth. Parkhurst was assigned to assist Monuments Man Capt. James J. Rorimer. Together, they located 1,036 repositories for looted works of art and other cultural objects in southwest Germany alone. At each repository, they made provisions for local security, compiled inventories, and noted information regarding the collection’s origin. Later, as Deputy Chief of the MFAA Section of the Office of Military Government, United States (OMGUS) in Germany, Parkhurst helped coordinate restitution efforts at the Munich Central Collecting Point. In 1946, he organized an exhibition of paintings at the Haus der Kunst (House of German Art) in Munich. He was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government.
Following his return from Germany in 1946, Parkhurst commenced a six-decades-long career as a popular professor and administrator at some of America’s leading universities. He lectured at Princeton University (1947-49), Oberlin College (1949-62), and Williams College (1980, 1985-87), and was a visiting lecturer at the University of Minnesota, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Wisconsin, and UCLA. His expertise in art, combined with the skills he acquired as a Monuments Man, earned him prominent positions at various museums, including the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY (1946-47), the Princeton University Art Museum (1947-49), the Baltimore Museum of Art (1962-70), the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (1971-83), the Williams College Museum of Art (1983-92), and the Smith College Museum of Art (1991-92). He also served as a trustee at the Amon Carter Museum from 1976 to 1985.
In addition, Parkhurst served as Chairman of both the Maryland Arts Council and the Governor’s Council on Arts in Maryland, as well as trustee of the Williamstown Regional Art Conservation Laboratory. He was co-founder of The Intermuseum Conservation Association (ICA), President of the American Association of Museums, and a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors.
Charles Parkhurst died in Amherst, Massachusetts on June 25, 2008. His papers, which include records from his service as a Monuments Man, are conserved in the archives of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.