The Monuments Men

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Harry Vernon Anderson ( 1902-1983 )

An accomplished editor and publisher of interior design, Harry Vernon Anderson believed that one’s home stood as the “stage upon which the drama of living is to unfold.”

Anderson was born in Marine City, Michigan and educated at Olivet College. His long career in publishing began as a salesman for the architectural magazine Architectural Forum. At a time when there was no magazine devoted solely to interior design, he decided to create his own. He founded The Decorator’s Digest in 1932 on the heels of the 1931 inception of the American Institute of Interior Decorators in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Known today as Interior Design, Anderson’s magazine was the first of its kind for professional interior designers. Anderson’s mission was to encourage greater respect for not only interior designers but the field of interior design as a whole. Anderson endured in his role as editor and publisher of the magazine until his retirement in 1969.

With the onset of war, Anderson temporarily closed his magazine and joined the Army. He served as a G-5 (Military Government) Officer with the 101st Airborne Division from 1942 to 1947. In May 1945, Anderson and soldiers under his command discovered Nazi Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering’s vast collection of looted art in air raid shelters in the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden. In addition to locating the engineer of the caves, who led him to the hidden room, Anderson supervised the process of inventorying the train, the collection with the aid of Walter Andreas Hofer, Goering’s art dealer and curator.

Anderson orchestrated the safe removal of Goering’s collection from numerous hiding places including air raid shelters, tunnels in Goering’s home in Berchtesgaden, and nine train cars that had been abandoned on a railway track. He also confiscated a number of paintings from Goering’s wife, Emmy, after tracking her and her nurse to Schloss Fischhorn. When the items were transferred to the recently requisitioned Bavarian Hotel in nearby Unterstein, the paintings alone filled forty rooms. Anderson subsequently established an exhibition entitled, “Hermann Goering’s Art Collection, courtesy of the 101st Airborne Division” at the Bavarian Hotel in late May 1945. The exhibition was soon closed after concerns arose regarding adequate security. By this time, however, the exhibition had garnered international attention with many prestigious military figures traveling to Unterstein to view Goering’s mythic art collection. Anderson was thus forced to deny entry to late visitors including several three-star Generals.

After returning home, Anderson received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the Moore College of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He also received the Elsie de Wolfe Award of the New York chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers in 1969. The American Society of Interior Designers named him an honorary fellow in 1981.

Anderson’s efforts in the field of interior design were instrumental in elevating the public perception of “interior decorator” to that of “interior designer.” He died in Austin, Texas in 1983.