Monuments Men receive their gold medal in ceremony
- Published: Oct 30, 2015, 6 AM
The Monuments Men now have a monument of their own — a congressional gold medal honoring members of the World War II military unit for their service in recovering and preserving artwork stolen by Axis personnel during the conflict.
The medal was presented collectively to the Monuments Men Foundation during an Oct. 22 ceremony in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.
The group received the nation's highest civilian honor in recognition of its heroic role in the preservation, protection, and restitution of monuments, works of art, and artifacts of cultural importance during and following World War II, according to a press release from the United States Mint.
The Mint designed and struck the gold medal, and is selling two different bronze versions to collectors.
According to a Mint press release, “The name ‘Monuments Men’ was given to the men and women who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section under the Allied Armies. Initially, the group was tasked with protecting and temporarily repairing the monuments, churches, and cathedrals of Europe that were damaged due to combat.”
The Mint added: “However, their mission was adapted to identify, preserve, catalogue, and repatriate almost 5,000,000 artistic and cultural items during and following World War II. The Monuments Men saved and recovered some of the world's most famous pieces of art by such renowned artists as Michelangelo, Johannes Vermeer, Jan van Eyck, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Leonardo da Vinci.”
About the designs
The obverse of the medal features a portrayal of soldiers in action, lifting and removing objects from a cave or mine location where Monuments Men discovered stolen works. “The artwork depicted represents major works of historic significance the group recovered,” according to the Mint. The design includes the inscription MONUMENTS MEN.
The obverse was designed by United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program artist Joel Iskowitz and sculptured by United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver Phebe Hemphill.
The medal's reverse design features some of the thousands of works of art that were at risk from damage, destruction, or theft by Nazi forces, surrounding the inscriptions IT IS OUR PRIVILEGE TO PASS ON TO THE COMING CENTURIES TREASURES OF PAST AGES and GEN. DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER. The design also includes the inscription ACT OF CONGRESS 2014.
The reverse was designed by AIP artist Donna Weaver and sculptured by United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver Joseph Menna.
The designs approved by the Treasury Department were only partially those recommended by the two federal design review panels who saw the Mint’s designs at their March 2015 meetings.
The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee did recommend the adopted reverse design at its March 5 meeting, but only as the panel’s second-choice design. The panel originally selected for the obverse a design featuring Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, offset to the right and with the geometric swoops and swirls of the Golden Ratio positioned in the background and to the left of the artwork. In addition, the design featured statutory inscriptions.
However, the panel reconsidered its original vote after a CCAC member and the head of the Monuments Men Foundation raised objections.
As Coin World’s Washington correspondent Bill McAllister reported in his coverage of the meeting, member Erik Jansen asked after the initial vote, “Are we honoring the men or the mission?”
Foundation chairman of the board Robert M. Edsel then pushed for reconsideration of the foundation’s preferred obverse, which had placed second in the panel’s initial voting.
As McAllister reported, it is Edsel’s role as author of two books about the Monuments Men that led to a 2014 movie of the same name.
McAllister reported that Edsel pointed to other medals for military units available at the U.S. Mint website and said, “I can’t find one [medal] that honors soldiers that doesn’t have soldiers on it. Why would we depart from what has been done in the past? I don’t know why you would do that.”
The panel then agreed to approve the foundation’s preferred obverse as its recommendation. That was the design ultimately adopted for the medal.
The panel then voted to recommend the original selection for the obverse, with the da Vinci painting and Golden Ratio, for the reverse, though with the necessary modifications as a reverse design.
The Commission of Fine Arts, in its review of the designs at its March 19 meeting in Washington, disagreed with the CCAC and the foundation’s recommendations for the obverse. Commission chairman Earl A. Powell III, chairman of the National Gallery of Art, said, “It looks like a poor man’s Iwo Jima Memorial.”
The commission instead recommended an obverse design that shows soldiers recovering artwork, including one carrying a large vase in the foreground.
The commission’s recommendation for the reverse of the medal, however, was approved, though the inscriptions had to be changed since the design had been intended as an obverse. The original version of the design showed recovered artwork surrounding a statutory inscription. That inscription was replaced with the quote from Eisenhower on the final version.
Veterans attend ceremony
The Oct. 22 ceremony was led by Speaker of the House John Boehner, who noted that this would be the last congressional gold medal presentation ceremony he would be conducting. Boehner is stepping down as speaker and resigning from Congress.
Boehner prefaced the presentation by noting that the first congressional medal was voted to honor Gen. George Washington and that the project took 14 years to complete, with Thomas Jefferson among those shepherding the creation of the medal.
The ceremony was attended by four veterans of the unit — three men and one woman: Richard Barancik, Harry Ettlinger, Bernard Taper, and Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite.
Bronze versions available
Public Law 113-116, which requires the United States Mint to strike the Monuments Men Congressional Gold Medal, also authorizes the bureau to strike and sell bronze reproductions of the medal. The 3-inch medal (product code 15MJ), priced at $39.95, and the 1.5-inch medal (product code 15MK), priced at $6.95, are available for purchase via the Mint’s online catalog at https://catalog.usmint.gov/ and at 800-872-6468. Hearing- and speech-impaired customers with TTY equipment may call 888-321-6468.
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