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'Raiders of the Lost Art' topic of Distinguished Faculty Lecture Oct. 18

Lamar University has honored Julia Fischer, assistant professor of art history, as the Distinguished Faculty Lecturer for 2016. Fischer has been a member of Lamar’s faculty since 2013.

“Raiders of the Lost Art: the Monuments Men and Their Legacy” will be the topic of her lecture, sponsored by ExxonMobil, to be presented at 7 p.m. on Oct. 18 in the University Theatre. The Lamar University Faculty Senate will host the lecture, which will be open to the public without charge.

Julia Fischer in the Dishman Art Museum“I was very honored and surprised to be selected for this honor since this is just my third year here at Lamar,” she said. “I am excited to be able to tell the story of the Monuments Men more in depth.” Fischer’s lecture will go into greater detail than the 2014 movie, “The Monuments Men” by George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

Another recent film will also help illustrate the history: “Woman In Gold”, a 2015 film based on the story of the struggle to reclaim art stolen by the Nazis in Vienna just prior to World War II, that depicts the legal battle that continued until the 2004 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States in Republic of Austria v. Altmann.

“I like ‘The Monuments Men’,” she said. “But of course they had to take some artistic liberties.” For example, she felt the depiction of the recovery of stolen art from the Neuschwanstein Castle made it “look like it took a couple of hours” when in reality the process took nearly a year.

Still, for many people, the film is a good introduction to the work of the 345 men and women from 14 nations who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section during World War II saving cultural treasures from destruction of war and theft by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

It is an incredible story of perseverance in danger, Fischer said. About a dozen Monuments Men braved the front lines to track, locate and recover looted objects. Two died while protecting works of art. Hundreds remained long after the war ended to coordinate the return of stolen works of art and other cultural objects to the appropriate countries, owners or heirs.

Their legacy was lived out after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when the Baghdad Museum was looted and “a kind of Monuments Men group was formed to recover stolen objects,” Fischer said.

Fischer, an art historian that specializes in Roman imperial cameos, relief sculpture and iconography, received a bachelor’s degree in art history and classics from Loyola University Chicago, 2001, a master’s degree in classical archaeology from the University of Missouri-Columbia, 2004, and her Ph.D. in the history of art from the Ohio State University, 2014.  

Fischer teaches survey courses along with upper-level courses in ancient art, Asian art, Renaissance art and art and crime. Before joining Lamar’s faculty, she taught at Georgia Southern University, Denison University, Columbus College of Art and Design and the Ohio State University. During the summer of 2013, she taught “Art in Italy: Antiquity to the Baroque” as part of a five-week study abroad program in Montepulciano, Italy, that included study in Vatican City, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Assisi, Siena and Perugia.

A frequent presenter and lecturer at conferences around the nation, she is a member of the American Association of Italian Studies, the Italian Art Society, Southeastern College Art Conference, Midwest Art History Society, Archaeological Institute of America and the College Art Association.

The idea for the lecture originated when she taught an “art and crime” class in May that included a lecture on art and terrorism.

“It was a brand new lecture because ISIS has done so much damage in the last couple of years,” she said. “I knew that ISIS had destroyed a lot of ancient sites and looted museums — all these depressing things — but there are Syrian archeologists acting as monument men working very hard to recover antiquities under extremely dangerous circumstances.”

“I am a little embarrassed that as an undergraduate art history major I didn’t know anything about Hitler and the Nazis and the fate of art in World War II. When I did learn about it through the outstanding PBS documentary, ‘The Rape of Europa,’ I became very interested in it,” she said.

When she taught at Georgia Southern, she used the documentary in her classes and found her students’ reactions were similar to her own.

Of the upcoming lecture, she hopes participants come away realizing that art is important. “I always tell my students these objects are historical documents. They are a reflection of a particular time and a particular place. We can learn, and in a way, almost travel back in time to learn more about those people,” she said.

“We should protect these objects and really care because art is what makes us human,” she said. “These objects connect us to people from antiquity, Middle Ages, Renaissance, baroque this is all part of our cultural heritage as humans. I thank God that there are people that will sacrifice their lives if necessary to preserve these works for future generations.”

Fischer is the 30th recipient of the honor – one of the highest accorded a Lamar faculty member. A committee of faculty, staff, students and community representatives make the selection. 

Other honorees have been: Steven Zani, English and modern languages; Jerry Lin, engineering; Catalina Castillon, English and modern languages; James Esser, psychology; Donna Birdwell, anthropology; Keith Carter and Jerry Newman, art; Richard Harrel, biology; George Irwin, physics; Rafael Tadmor, chemical engineering; Jean Andrews, deaf studies/deaf education; Jim Jordan and Jim Westgate, earth and space sciences; R.S. “Sam” Gwynn and Jim Sanderson, English; Kenneth Rivers, French; William Pampe, geology; John Carroll, Ronald Fritze, John Storey, J. Lee Thompson and Naaman Woodland, history; Dianna Rivers, nursing; Joe Pizzo, physics; Terri Davis, political science; Dorothy Sisk, professional pedagogy; and Christine Bridges-Esser, Spanish.