The Monuments Men

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Edward S. Peck ( 1908-1970 )

Art historian and professor Edward “Ted” Staunton Peck was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His art historical studies began at Oberlin College, Ohio, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1931 and a Master’s degree in 1932. An ardent academic, he obtained further certifications from programs worldwide including Colorado College, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. His studies culminated in a Doctorate from Harvard University in 1941.

Peck’s pre-war career consisted of various teaching positions across the United States. In addition to being a public school teacher in his hometown of Colorado Springs, he was a professor and Head of the Art Department at Hollins College, Virginia, instructor of art history at Oberlin College, Ohio, and Head of the Art Department at College of Wooster, Ohio. His post at Wooster was placed on hold upon the start of World War II, at which time Peck enlisted in the U.S. Army.

From 1942 to 1945, Peck served with the 101st Airborne Division in the 321st Glider Field Artillery Battalion as a Sergeant Technician in Intelligence. Toward the end of May 1945 he was placed on special assignment by Major General Maxwell D. Taylor of the 101st Airborne Division. Under the direction of Maj. Harry V. Anderson, Peck compiled a detailed inventory of Hermann Goering’s art collection, which had recently been discovered by the 101st Airborne Division in Unterstein, near Berchtesgaden, Germany. This hallmark collection contained the majority of looted paintings, sculptures and objects amassed by Goering in his quest to compile the ultimate collection of artistic objects. After the extensive collection was reassembled at the nearby Bavarian Hotel, the 101st Airborne Division hosted the blockbuster exhibition, “Hermann Goering’s Art Collection, courtesy of the 101st Airborne Division,” at which Peck was a guide.

Goering’s collection, which Peck had extensively inventoried, was eventually moved to Munich by the MFAA. His familiarity with the Goering collection, combined with his knowledge of art and foreign language proficiency, made Peck a promising recruit for service as a Monuments Officer. In March 1946, he was assigned to the headquarters of the Office of Military Government in Berlin. He reported for duty at the MFAA Section, Restitution Branch, in mid-April. As a Catalogues Officer, Peck was responsible for maintaining MFAA files including maps and charts, monthly reports, inventories, restitution receipts, and disseminating requested information to officers in the field.

In the beginning of September 1946, Peck conducted an inspection of the art objects in the officers’ club at Friedrichshof Castle (today referred to as Schlosshotel Kronberg) in Kronberg, Germany. In the report of his visit, Peck recommended the removal of antique carpets and chairs to locked rooms upstairs. He further insisted that the wall paintings and the contents of the historic library were in danger of injury or theft. He recommended that, if their condition was suitable for transportation, all should be sent to storage at the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point. In June 2015, the Monuments Men Foundation followed in Peck’s footsteps with the discovery and return of two paintings that were removed from the castle at war’s end, likely by U.S. soldiers.

After the end of his service in the MFAA, Peck resumed his teaching post at Wooster. In 1950, he accepted the position of Director of the University Galleries and professor of art history at the University of Southern California. Devoted to the cause of art conservation for the rest of his career, Peck was a member and lecturer of the Archaeological Institute of America as well as a member of the College Arts Association and the Ohio Valley College and Museum Group. He died in California in 1970.

Photo: Courtesy of Special Collections, The College of Wooster Libraries