The Monuments Men and their multiple Minnesota connections

The Monuments Men, which opens in theaters Friday, has been getting a lot of attention in these parts, and not just for its stellar cast.

The movie, which details the efforts of an unlikely World War II platoon tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves, has a number of connections to Minnesota.

Connection #1: The Minnesota Monuments Men

At least 10 men with ties to Minnesota were a part of the mission to save art and architecture in World War II:

George Albert Selke  was president of St. Cloud State University from 1927 to 1946.

Frank Phidias Albright was born in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota.

Walter J. Huchthausen studied architecture at the University of Minnesota.

Charles R. Sattgast was the president of Bemidji State University from 1938 to 1964.

Everett Parker Lesley, Jr. was a professor at the University of Minnesota from 1939-1942.

Ralph Warner Hammett was born in Mankato and studied architecture at the University of Minnesota.

Richard Siebe Davis served as both curator and then director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, from 1946 to 1959.

Charles Joseph Ermatinger was born in Duluth, Minnesota.

Harry D.M. Grier joined the Minneapolis Institute of Arts as assistant director in 1946 and served until 1951.

Keith Merrill was born in Minneapolis and donated art to the MIA.

Anthony Caponi (Photo courtesy Caponi Art Park)

Connection #2: Anthony Caponi

Sculptor Anthony Caponi, the founder of Caponi Art Park, was born in an Italian mountain village and immigrated as a teenager with his family to the United States. As soon as he started to feel at home, he was enlisted in the army to fight in World War II, and was sent back to Italy, this time as “the enemy.”

Caponi was assigned to the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories, where he served as interpreter, body guard, and driver. The AMG became the main instrument for the preservation of historical monuments and works of art as the effort moved from Italy to northern Europe. Upon his return to the United States, Caponi moved to Minnesota where he pursued — and realized — his dream of creating a 60-acre sculpture park where anyone can walk and reflect on the natural beauty of the world alongside the art it inspires.

"Hopfgarten" by Lyonel Feininger is one of nine works of art at the MIA with incredible stories of surviving World War II. (United States, North America), 1920

Connection #3: Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Tracing the ownership of a work of art is a primary occupation for museums, for they are obliged to return any works that are found to have exchanged hands illegally at some point in their history. Some works are stolen from archeological digs, while others are looted in wartime. Inspired by “The Monuments Men” movie opening tomorrow, the MIA is presenting a self-guided tour of nine works of art that each have incredible stories of surviving World War II.

Cori Wegener, modern day "Monuments Woman" (Photo courtesy MIA)

Connection #4: The Modern Day Monuments Woman

Speaking of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Cori Wegener was working at the MIA as associate curator of decorative arts, textiles, and sculpture during the war in Iraq, and combined her museum skills with her Army reserve training to coordinate efforts to protect cultural artifacts in the wake of museum looting. After retiring from the military, Wegener formed the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross, providing an emergency response to cultural property at risk from armed conflict or natural disasters.

Now Wegener works at the Smithsonian, where she leads efforts to protect cultural heritage worldwide. She’ll be back in town Feb. 21 to talk about the challenges protecting cultural heritage in times of conflict.

Know of a Minnesota connection that isn’t listed here? Let me know.

Review: Plenty of heart, not much art in ‘Monuments Men’