Philadelphia's Own Monument Man: An acclaimed sculptor and PAFA faculty member Walter Hancock served as Inspiration for George Clooney's new film The Monuments Men to be released February 7, 2014
By Heike Rass
[Special to WritersClearinghouse News Service]
Walter Hancock (1901-1998), renowned sculptor, long-time faculty member and alumnus of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA and a Monuments Man during World War II, served as inspiration for the characters in the upcoming action-thriller, The Monuments Men, directed by and starring George Clooney. Hancock is the creator of the colossal Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.
The film chronicles the heroic efforts of seven men who were part of a group that became known as the "Monuments Men" -- some 300 museum directors, curators, artists, art scholars and educators from various nations -- tasked by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to locate and protect tens of thousands of artworks and cultural treasures that the Nazi regime had stolen and planned to destroy in Germany. In theaters beginning February 7, 2014, the film is based on the book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert Edsel.
After being drafted into the Army in 1942, Hancock volunteered to serve as a U.S. Army Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives specialist officer in Europe from 1943-45. Of his interest in serving as a Monuments officer, Hancock wrote in his 1997 memoir: "I had vigorously tried to get myself transferred to service that would be central to the military's relationship to the [American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas'] programs." In 1943, Hancock was part of a select group of officers charged with writing a handbook to be used by Monuments officers during their missions. The directives outlined in this handbook were signed by General Eisenhower and gave officers the necessary authority to protect certain cultural artifacts.
Over the course of his exceptional career as an artist, Hancock created more than 300 works, including such notable artifacts as the Soldiers Memorial in St. Louis; the official Inaugural Medal for President Dwight D. Eisenhower; the bust of President George Bush in the Capitol Rotunda; the Army and Navy Air Medal; the US Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal and the US Air Mail Fliers Medal of Honor; and statues of James Madison in the Library of Congress and Douglas Macarthur at the US Military Academy.
Hancock attended PAFA from 1921-1925, where he studied under prominent sculptor Charles Grafly. As a student, Hancock received the Edmund Stewardson Prize (1921); the Cresson Scholarship (1922 and 1923); the Widener Gold Medal (1925); and the Fellowship Prize (1932). Hancock visited Europe on two traveling scholarships, and studied at the American Academy in Rome from 1925-1928. Prior to attending PAFA, Hancock also attended Washington University in St. Louis from 1918-1920, from which he received an honorary doctorate in 1942.
Hancock joined the PAFA faculty in 1929, where he served as Director of the Sculpture Department. He remained a faculty member until 1967.
Among Hancock's most notable accolades are the National Medal of Arts in 1989, and the National Medal of Freedom in 1990. He was also recipient of the Prize de Rome in sculpture from the American Academy (1925); the Helen Foster Barnett Prize of the National Academy of Design (1935); the Philadelphia Art Alliance Medal of Achievement (1953); the J. Sanford Saltus Medal (1953); the Herbert Adams Memorial Award (1954); and the Medal of Honor from the National Sculpture Society (1981).
Heike Rass is PAFA's director of public relations.