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Preservation

Lincoln Kirstein's Greatest Treasure Hunt and Find

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The Monuments Men was one of the top films again last week, bringing to light the incredible true story of the museum professionals (art historians, curators, professors, conservators) who joined the Allied army's Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFAA), risking their lives to rescue art from thievery and bombing during World War II.

One of those Monuments Men is better known for his many other accomplishments—Lincoln Kirstein (his fictionalized character is played by Bob Balaban in the film) was a writer and patron of the arts, particularly dance. He helped introduce George Balanchine to America, and with him founded the Ballet Society, which later became the New York City Ballet.

Lincoln Kirstein was also deeply involved with the New York Public Library. He donated a significant collection of dance-related materials to the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, and also donated his personal papers. Among these papers were first-hand accounts of his time with the MFAA. The following excerpt is from a letter dated May 22, 1945:

Kirstein mentions his fondness for George Stout (played by George Clooney in the film), a founding member of the International Institute for Conservation (IIC), and his distaste for horse meat! In later years, Kirstein would go on to provide funding for the NYPL's Dance Division to establish a small conservation studio at the Library for the Performing Arts, and pay for the first conservator to work there. In fact, funding from his generous gift still pays for conservation for the Dance Division to this day!

We salute the Monuments Men for their service to the art of the world during the war, and for their continuing service to the art world through their many subsequent accomplishments.

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