Patrick Ravines, associate professor and director of the Art Conservation Department at SUNY Buffalo State, and Jonathan Thornton, art conservation professor, can provide background and context to the movie The Monuments Men, which opens February 7.

Starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, the movie focuses on the band of heroic individuals who saved millions of pieces of art stolen by the Nazis during and after World War II. One of those men is the late Sheldon Keck, who founded the Art Conservation Department at SUNY Buffalo State, along with programs at other institutions. Thornton is a descendent of Keck’s.

As part of the Ninth U.S. Army, Keck joined the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) program under the Civil Affairs and Military Government sections of the Allied armies. He was among a small group who served as the first wave of monuments men.

Both Keck and George Stout, whom Clooney portrays, were prominent art conservators before the war and among the founders of the profession. They were instrumental in founding the American Institute of Conservation; Stout was the organization’s first president.

Keck founded the first conservation graduate program at New York University in 1961. Keck and his wife, fellow conservator Caroline Keck, also founded the Cooperstown conservation graduate school in 1970; it moved to Buffalo State in 1987. The Cooperstown/Buffalo program has now trained more practicing conservators than any other in the country.

Graduates are prominent in most of the art museums in the country including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and all the Smithsonian museums. Graduates have responded to recent disasters such as the hurricanes in New Orleans and Haiti and Hurricane Sandy.

“The type of work depicted in The Monuments Men movie continues, and we faculty within the Art Conservation Department, are the new embodiment of that guard that started more than a half century ago,” Ravines said. “This movie sheds light on the important and unparalleled work that art conservators do every day.”

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