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CAS hosts author Robert Edsel at Tampa Theater

TAMPA, Fla. – Often, when discussing the dynamics of World War II, thoughts of politics, nuclear warfare and imperialism come to mind. Strangely, the practice of art conservation during this era is not typical.

At an “Evening with Robert Edsel” sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Florida, author Robert Edsel told the story of how a group of American and British art historians, artists, curators, museum directors and architects known as the Monuments Men saved the world’s cultural artifacts during Nazi Germany.

In front of 575 people at the Tampa Theatre, Edsel revealed his inspiration behind telling the story of his book, “Monument’s Men.”

“This all began for me in 1996 when I moved to Florence wanting to learn about things I didn’t know about,” Edsel said.

Among some of the world’s greatest cultural artifacts in Florence, Edsel explained that he became curious to know how artifacts survived the chaos of World War II.

Thus, his research began and story of the “Monuments Men” began to unfold.

Aided by a slide show, Edsel discussed the precautions taken by individuals in Italy to protect art during WWII such as the encasing of “The David” by Michelangelo in brick.

One precaution told by Edsel stirred the crowd as Edsel informed the near destruction of “The Lord’s Supper” by Leonardo Divincci in Milan, despite efforts of mounted sand bags, during a British and American raid in World War II.

According to Edsel, in the midst of art looting by Adolf Hitler in Europe and the near destruction of “The Last Supper,” President Franklin Roosevelt released news of “the creation of a commission that became known as the Robert’s Commission.”

This commission became formally known as the Monuments Men who worked tirelessly to preserve the world’s relics of civilization.

“They felt they had an important contribution to make two World War II, being a new kind of soldier, one charged with saving rather than destroying,” Edsel said.

In a question and answer session directed by Dean Eric Eisenberg of the College Arts and Sciences at USF, Edsel answered burning questions from the audience ranging from the level of facts utilized in the film adaptation of “Monuments Men” to his experience working with actors during the film.

One question about how Edsel found his calling of telling the stories of the Monuments Men moved the crowd.

In a response, Edsel recalled a 2006 interview with one of the Monument’s Men, 98-year-old Lane Faison.

“As I got ready to leave, I shook his hand,” Edsel said. “He pulled me all the way up to him and said, ‘I’ve been waiting to meet you all my life.”

According to Edsel, Faison died 10 days later.

“I never doubted that I am supposed to be doing exactly what I’m doing right now because of experiences like that,” Edsel said.

As audience members formed a line to get books sighed by Edsel, Lorene Hall-Jennings, an academic services administrator in the College of Art and Sciences, expressed her appreciation for Robert Edsel’s work.

“I love the arts,” Hall-Jennings said. “I truly believe he was the one given the gift to seek out these Monuments Men to tell a story for future generations.”

“An Evening with Robert Edsel” part of the Frontier Forum lecture series within the College of Arts and Sciences at USF.


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Author: Kristan McCants