The tagline to the new George Clooney Movie "Monuments Men" is: "It was the greatest art heist in history" but locally it probably reminds some folks of the greatest art heist in Grayson County history. Well, sort of anyway. Watching the trailer for the "Monuments Men," might make local residents think about a fellow down in Whitewright named Joe Meador who came home from Germany with a little more lederhosen.

The tagline to the new George Clooney Movie "Monuments Men" is: "It was the greatest art heist in history" but locally it probably reminds some folks of the greatest art heist in Grayson County history. Well, sort of anyway. Watching the trailer for the "Monuments Men," might make local residents think about a fellow down in Whitewright named Joe Meador who came home from Germany with a little more lederhosen.


News reports from the 1990s that ran in the Sherman Democrat, Denison Herald and The New York Times, show that Mr. Meador, who had by that time died of cancer, was a soldier stationed in German at the end of World War II. He, the story goes, was one of the guys assigned to watch over German artifacts to make sure they were not stolen. When his service in the military was concluded, he ended up back in Texas with a gold, sliver and jewel emblazoned biblical manuscript from the 9th century called the Samuhel Gospels, another bejeweled manuscript dated to 1513, a lavishly decorated box meant to contain religious relics, a liturgical comb dating to the seventh or eighth century, five reliquaries of cut rock crystals dating to the 10th century, and a heart-shaped vessel believed to have been fashioned in the 11th century. After years of negotiations, Joe Meador’s heirs ended up getting paid $2.75 million as a finder’s fee for the items that were eventually returned to the St. Servatius Church of Quedlinburg in Germany, after a stop over at the Dallas Museum of Art for an exhibition.


It might seem odd to still be talking about pieces of art stolen so long ago or pieces that were returned to their rightful owners so long ago, but the topic of art looted during WWII is not a dead one. Just last month, pieces recovered by the Monuments Men, the actual Allied group tasked with returning masterpieces to their rightful owners, was sold at auction by Sotheby’s in New York City.


In a story that ran on Reuters in January, Lucian Simmons, Sotheby’s head of restitution, said, "The scale of looting (during WWII) was absolutely extraordinary." He said in France 36,000 paintings were stolen from institutions and from individuals. The Monuments Men managed to recover and return a majority of those pieces. Two small paintings from the January sale, "La ceuillett des roses" and "Le musicien" by the French rococo art artist Jean-Baptise Pater, were chosen by Adolf Hitler’s air force chief Herman Goering for his personal collection. Though the paintings themselves were not mentioned in the movie "Monuments Men," Goering and his habit of visiting great museums and private collections to hand select great works of art for himself or Hitler was noted in the film. In the film, the good guys use some of the Nazi’s own paper work from those selection trips to trace the origin of located pieces of art.


Back here in Sherman, Texas, one might wonder what Germans in the 1990s thought about the theft of their precious artifacts. Frances Neidhardt went to Quedlinburg, Germany back in the 1990s just after The New York Times broke the story about Meador’s cache of German artifacts. She wrote a series of articles that appeared in the Herald Democrat about the topic. This week, the Herald Democrat asked her what the general feeling was, among the German’s she spoke to back then, about Meador and his actions. She said the Germans took a very mature, wise and understanding view on the whole thing. "One would have thought that they might have felt themselves wronged by this this solider," she said. "But they all said, ‘Why should we blame him? Look what we’ve done.’ That was the big German approach. They had learned their lesson and then some. And they appreciated the fact that he had not sold the treasures."


Neidhardt said most of the Germans she spoke to seemed to understand that Meador loved the art he sent home from Germany and sought only to treasure it for his lifetime. It was only after his death that it began to be put on the open market. At that point, history shows, the Germans decided it was better to pay a finders fee and get as much of it back at one time as possible than to have it disappear into private collections around the world.


To this day, the Germans themselves are dealing with private collections that contain thousands of pieces of art that were misappropriated during or just after WWII. Just last year, authorities in Germany announced finding thousands of pieces of art believed to trace back to WWII looting in an apartment in Munich. Works of art by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Chagall were reportedly among the find.


A USA Today article this month reported that, authorities found a second trove of art in an apartment owned by the same family in an Austrian home. That collection is said to have included a Monet and Renior. The man who owned the collections is the son of an art dealer who was forced, the article said, to work with the Nazis in the removal of art from Jewish collectors during WWII. With some estimations of the number of works of art taken from Jewish collections alone reaching in the hundreds of thousands, Hitler’s "greatest art heist" is turning into the world’s greatest treasure hunt with entire organizations set up with the specific purpose of finding the art looted during WWII and returning it to its proper owners.


Related:


ELDREDGE: The media spotlight on Whitewright


REVIEW: Clooney’s newest worth seeing