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Biographical Note | A Finding Aid to the Thomas Carr Howe papers, 1932-1984

Thomas Carr Howe papers, 1932-1984

Biographical Note

Thomas Carr Howe, Jr. (1904-1994) served as the director of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco for nearly four decades and, during World War II, as an officer in the U.S. Army's Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives unit assisting with locating, recovering, and restituting cultural objects and artwork stolen by the Nazis.
Howe was born in Kokomo, Indiana in 1904. He studied at Harvard University where he received his bachelor's and master's degrees. Howe was the assistant director of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco from 1931-1939 and director from 1939-1968. Howe was also the art commissioner for the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940) for which he organized an exhibition showcasing Mexican muralists.
During World War II, Howe joined the U.S. army and served from 1945 to 1946 in Germany and Austria. He began as a naval lieutenant but was soon assigned to serve in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) section. Howe reported to Lieutenant Commander George Stout at Wiesbaden, and was later promoted to Lieutenant Commander and Deputy Chief of the MFAA at Frankfurt. During his service as one of the "Monuments Men" Howe located hidden and recovered large repositories of cultural objects and works of art stolen by the Nazis. He also helped with the restitution effort. At the Altaussee salt mines in Austria, Howe helped salvage a large cache of stolen artwork that included Michelangelo's
Madonna and Child
and the Ghent Altarpiece or
The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb
by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Vermeer's
The Artists Studio
, and the Rothschild family jewels. Howe later described his wartime work in his book
Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art
(1946).
Howe resumed his position as the director of the California Palace of the Legion on Honor after the war, a position he held until his retirement in 1968. Through his career as a prominent art director, Howe was close with many American and international museum professionals, collectors and socialites. Friends and colleagues include Agnes Mongan and Paul Sachs (both former directors of Harvard's Fogg Museum), Whitney Warren, and Gerda and Hans-Erich Von Schmidt auf Altenstadt.
For his wartime service as a Monuments Men, Howe was honored with the Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and the Officier of the Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau in 1946. At the request of the federal government, Howe also later served as the Cultural Affairs Advisor to the High Commissioner of Germany from 1950-1951, during which time he returned to Germany with S. Lane Faison, another MFAA official, to assist with closing the central collecting points where the recovered artworks has been held for restitution. From 1960-1968, Howe was a member of the Fine Arts Committee for The White House and he continued to serve on numerous panels and commissions as an art advisor.
Howe married Francesca Deering. Together they had one daughter Francesca.