Never Mind Clooney and Damon, Meet the Real Monuments Men in the Midwest

Film-The Monuments Men
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
As Monuments Men opens this week with an all-star cast led by George Clooney and Matt Damon, so does an exhibit dedicated to the Monuments Men at Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

The movie is the true story of a military unit deployed during World War II to save some of the world's great works of art from certain destruction.

So what does a museum in fly-over country have to do with it?

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art was just a decade old when war broke out across Europe and in the South Pacific. At that time, museums on both coasts of the United States shipped their most valuable treasures to the nation's interior. The Nelson protected about 150 pieces of art.

When World War II ended, the Nelson hired its first full-time director -- Paul Gardner who was a monuments man based in Italy. Then, Laurence Sickman became the director of the Nelson. He had been stationed with Douglas MacArthur in Tokyo and helped build the Nelson's massive Chinese art collection.

In all, six Monuments Men served the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, whose collection includes Nicolas de Largillière's Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Monuments Men found it in in a bomb-rigged salt mine in Alt Aussee, Austria. The Nelson purchased it in 1954.
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
It's a part of the temporary Monuments Men exhibit that includes original photos of the unit at work in Europe, personal items from Kansas City's six Monuments Men and medals the unit received for its valiant effort.

No, the Monuments Men weren't storming the beaches of Normandy, fighting the Battle of the Bulge or liberating a Nazi concentration camp -– but also made an important contribution to humanity.

'Monuments Men' Newsreel Trailer
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