Famous Iowa native art rescuer is subject of documentary to screen at Figge for Veterans Day

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George Stout, left, an Iowa native, led The Monuments Men to rescue stolen art during World War II.

John Wayne was not the only internationally renowned Iowan to hail from the picturesque Madison County town of Winterset.

Ten years before Marion Robert Morrison (Duke’s given name) was born in 1907, George Stout (1897-1978) was born in Winterset, and he’s the subject of a 2019 documentary – “Stout Hearted: George Stout and the Guardians of Art.”

It will be shown for free on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, at 6:30 p.m. in the Figge Art Museum’s John Deere Auditorium. It is the first film to be screened by the newly formed Truth First Film Alliance, partnering with the Figge for the event.

The 2019 documentary “Stout Hearted” will be shown Nov. 11, Veterans Day, for free at the Figge Art Museum auditorium.

Director Kevin J. Kelley and producer Marie Wilkes will take part in a Q&A following the 81-minute film about the “Monuments Men” during World War II. This group, a military special forces unit, was assigned the mission of retrieving stolen art from the Nazis and was the subject of a major 2014 movie (“The Monuments Men”) directed by George Clooney and starring Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett.

“Stout Hearted: George Stout and the Guardians of Art” tells the story of this art student from Winterset, Iowa, who became the leader of “The Monuments Men” (Clooney played a fictionalized Stout in his film). The documentary also explores Stout’s pioneering efforts in the areas of art conservation, which elevated this discipline into the world of modern science.

Many of his innovations are used today to preserve masterworks from deterioration and extinction, according to a Truth First Film Alliance release. Today, the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield continues the work of Stout and The Monuments Men by protecting cultural heritage globally.

“Stout Hearted: George Stout and the Guardians of Art” recently received a Mid-America Emmy nomination.

“What’s so great about documentary films, or any film, is that you take the audience through the journey of this subject and then at the end you feel like you’ve been somewhere,” Kelley said in a recent release.

Filmmaker Kevin Kelley will do a Q & A following the film at the Figge.

The filmmaker has won two Mid-America Emmy Awards, two CINE Golden Eagle Awards, and three New York Festivals World Medals. Together the couple’s work has screened nationally and internationally at film festivals in Los Angeles, New York, London, Spain and Germany, and aired on HBO, PBS, ABC, CBS and ESPN. Wilkes is president of New Mile Media Arts, Kelley’s nonprofit film production company.

Truth First Film Alliance, Inc. is a registered non-profit organization that supports and encourages the production and exhibition of documentary films, and narrative films based on true stories, through public presentations and educational programs in the Quad Cities region. For more information, visit TruthFirstFilmAlliance.org.

Giving long overdue recognition

A “Stout Hearted” fundraising page on Indiegogo says that before the book by Robert Edsel, and the feature film “The Monuments Men,” Stout’s group and their role in history was virtually invisible to the public.

The movie “The Monuments Men” was directed by George Clooney, who also co-wrote it and acted in it with Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett.

“There has never been a book by a major publisher on the life and work of George Stout and his accomplishments in the field of art conservation. Our goal in producing this film is to generate public interest in Stout’s full story,” the site says.

“Another goal for this film will be to inspire others to work in the field of art conservation and art protection. Finally, this film is significant because of the awareness it will create for society to promote and respect protection and conservation of the world’s cultural heritage. 

“As the movie and book brought attention to the people that rescued art from Nazi Germany, this film will bring recognition and awareness to those today that are continuing the mission of safeguarding our art,” Kelley wrote. “As a filmmaker for more than thirty years, I have produced and directed many documentaries, some that have appeared on HBO and PBS stations across the country…This is a story that needs to be told.”

After graduating high school, Stout studied at Grinnell College for two years, but left early due to the onset of the First World War. It was then, while serving in a military hospital unit, that Stout first saw the effect that war had on art and culture, according to www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/stout-lt-cdr-george-l-usnr.

After returning to the U.S. he studied art at the University of Iowa, becoming the editor-in-chief of The Daily Iowan, and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1921. Stout worked as an instructor at the University of Iowa and the University of Pittsburgh before spending two years studying abroad in Europe. In 1926, he enrolled in Harvard University as a Carnegie Fellow, earning a master’s degree in 1929. As Director of Technical Research at Harvard’s Fogg Museum and part-time Conservator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, he became a pioneer of scientific techniques in art restoration.

Fascinated with the science behind the artistic process, he conducted in-depth laboratory research on color spectroscopy, paint composition, methods of authentication, and the influence of atmospheric conditions on works of art.

In the early days of World War II, Stout learned from his professional contacts in Europe that museums and institutions were evacuating and safeguarding their collections. To duplicate this effort in the U.S., Stout helped establish the American Defense Harvard Group, which was instrumental in the formation of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas, later known as the Roberts Commission.

Stout enlisted in the U.S. Navy in early 1943 and began developing camouflage techniques for military aircraft. He was transferred to the MFAA in June 1944 and served first with U.S. First Army and later with 12th Army Group. Stout was one of the first Monuments Men to go ashore at Normandy.

As the Allies marched through France and Germany, he was near the front lines helping to rescue cultural treasures in places like Caen, Maastricht, and Aachen. His expert knowledge of safe transport for works of art was put to the test repeatedly in evacuations of repositories — each time using improvised materials and unskilled labor.

Stout departed Europe at the end of July 1945 and briefly returned to the U.S. for reassignment. In October he was sent to the headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, in Tokyo, Japan. As Chief of the Arts and Monuments Division of the Civil Information and Education Section, Stout laid the groundwork for work of the Monuments Men in the Pacific Theater.

George Stout (1897-1978), right, was played by George Clooney in the 2014 film “The Monuments Men,” a character named Frank Stokes.

The significance of Stout to the preservation of Europe’s cultural patrimony as a whole cannot be overstated, the site says. In the words of fellow Monuments Man Capt. Walker Hancock, “I can’t imagine what we would have done without George Stout’s experienced guidance.” According to the records of 12th Army Group, “art treasures of incalculable value were secured and preserved… due to his [Stout’s] energetic and resourceful action.” For his devoted service as a Monuments Man, Stout received the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal.

Stout became director of the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Mass., in 1947 and director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1955 until his retirement in 1970. He was a member of the American Antiquarian Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and participated in multiple international conferences on conservation.

On Nov. 11, veterans will be admitted free to exhibits at the Figge Art Museum (225 W. 2nd St., Davenport) all day. Admission is free to others from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. This special program is sponsored by the Northwest Illinois Film Office, Produce Iowa, Visit Quad Cities, and The Axis Hotel.

All individuals, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear masks inside the museum, as per the CDC guidelines.

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