Charles Parkhurst

Age 95: Former BMA director hunted art stolen by the Nazis.

June 29, 2008|By New York Times News Service

Charles Parkhurst, a museum director in Baltimore and Washington and one of the "monuments men," an Allied Forces team that chased down leads, pried open crates and snooped around museums, salt mines and castles in search of art stolen by the Nazis during World War II, died Thursday at his home in Amherst, Mass. He was 95.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Carol Clark.

From 1962 to 1970, Mr. Parkhurst was director of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Mr. Parkhurst's tenure in Baltimore was marked by a $5 million to $7 million increase in the worth of the museum's collection, a figure he estimated in a 1973 Sun article. By the time he left, museum membership expanded so rapidly that Mr. Parkhurst said the operating costs exceeded its growth.

"Money is everything," said Mr. Parkhurst, in an article written shortly before he took a job at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. "We've had that problem since I've been here."

Mr. Parkhurst also completed a major restoration laboratory and established a special museum publication that was circulated in 26 different countries.

As a lieutenant in the Navy and a trained art historian, Mr. Parkhurst was deputy chief of Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives in Germany immediately after the Second World War. The team, which was approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in June 1943, attracted an international group of young museum directors and curators, art professors and architects.

The mission of the "monuments men" was to identify artworks and buildings in need of protection and to discover caches of stolen art.

Beginning in the last year of the war, the group found and returned more than 5 million artifacts and artworks to their rightful owners.

For his role in returning looted art, the French government made him a chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1948.

Charles Percy Parkhurst was born in Columbus, Ohio, and grew up in Oberlin. He earned a bachelor's degree at Williams College in Massachusetts in 1935 and spent two years building roads and bridges in Alaska before resuming his education, earning a master's degree at Oberlin College in 1938 and a Master of Fine Arts degree at Princeton University in 1941.

After working as an assistant curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Mr. Parkhurst served in the Navy as a gunnery officer in the Mediterranean. As the war in Europe wound down, he was recommended for the art-recovery team. On Nov. 7, 1945, Mr. Parkhurst and other officers created a furor when they signed the Wiesbaden Manifesto, a letter of protest declaring their refusal to help move German-owned artworks to the United States for safekeeping. "We believed first of all that the language was the same the Nazis had used when they looted, which was 'protective custody,' " he said. "We thought that was a bad omen."

After Eleanor Roosevelt appealed to Gen. Lucius D. Clay, the deputy military governor of Germany, the plan was dropped.

In 1970, he was named assistant director and chief curator of the National Gallery of Art as the museum prepared to break ground for the construction of its East Building.

After retiring in 1983, Mr. Parkhurst taught and held museum positions at Williams College and Smith College.

Sun reporter Brent Jones contributed to this article.

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