Woman with ties to area helped retrieve artwork stolen during WWII, Korean War

Last updated: March 09. 2014 11:37PM - 2008 Views
By - tkellar@timesleader.com

Ardelia Ripley Hall handling a painting of St. Catherine of Rubens in 1952.
Ardelia Ripley Hall handling a painting of St. Catherine of Rubens in 1952.
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TUNKHANNOCK — A recent film called “The Monument Men” tells the tale of men that had a different call of duty during World War II.

Art experts were tasked with recovering artifacts and other pieces of art from private collections that were stolen by the Nazis during World War II. Once recovered, the artifacts were returned to their rightful owners.

While most were men, women also answered the call of duty. At least one of those women had ties to Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Ardelia Ripley Hall was born in Weymouth, Mass., and raised in Cohasset, Mass. She was no stranger to the Northeastern Pennsylvania, though. She visited her sister Frances West in Mehoopany and her sister’s brother-in-law, Alva Tompkins, in Tunkhannock.

Hall earned a bachelor’s degree from Smith College and a master’s from Columbia University before finding work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as the curatorial assistant.

She eventually found herself in Washington, where she helped to track down art looted from Europe during the war. The New York Times did a feature story on Hall and others who worked to retrieve the lost artwork.

“In February 1952, as Europe rebuilt after World War II, Ardelia Ripley Hall arrived in Bonn, Germany, to play her part in a bold American military mission that had begun about a decade earlier,” the New York Times reported. She had arrived to return a portrait of St. Catherine of Rubens that went missing from a museum in Düsseldorf.

A news release from the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock tells a little more of her success.

“In the 1940s and 1950s Ardelia Hall was instrumental in identifying important works of art that were still missing, some of which had been taken to the United States,” the news release states. “It was largely because of her efforts that 1,600 items were returned to public institutions in West Germany, Austria, Italy and Poland, as well as to private collections, including that of the Rothschild family in Paris.”

The New York Times reported that the team initially consisted of 30 men who were civilian art experts. They would travel Europe alone “and under fire” in search of pieces of art.

“The art-hunting team, officially known as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, grew to more than 300 people in the postwar years,” the New York Times reported. “The women never numbered more than a few dozen, but, like the men, they were dedicated scholars and at times notable heroes.”

Margie Young and her sister Calista Hendrickson, both of Tunkhannock, visited her when she was in the area and Hall would tell them stories.

Young, now the program coordinator for the Dietrich Theater, said her father took trips to Washington, D.C., where he would stay with Hall. Although she can’t remember much of her interactions with Hall, Young did remember one trip she took to Washington, D.C. Hall served Young a mocha, something that Young had never had up to that point.

While the feature film “Monument Men” tells the tale of the 300 people who worked to return artwork to collections, its all-star cast of George Clooney, Bill Murray and Matt Damon doesn’t give credit to the women who did the work as well.

Young, however, believes that women like Hall deserved to be recognized. Hall would go on to do similar work retrieving lost artwork with the Korean War. She died in 1979.

“They (monuments women) really did something very significant that wasn’t recognized,” she said. Young pointed out that while history tends to focus on presidents and generals, “women, on the whole, have been ignored.”

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