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Life's work of Utah's 'Monument Man' goes on display

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SALT LAKE CITY — An all-star Hollywood cast recently brought the true story of eight unlikely heroes to the big screen. "The Monuments Men" portrayed a group of American soldiers who tried to save art and artifacts from destruction at the end of World War II. Utah's own "Monument Man" tackled a similar mission in Japan after the war.

"I loved it," said University of Utah Professor Emeritus Lennox Tierney, who worked for six years to save Japan's artistic and cultural heritage.

Tierney said the people leading Japan's government while the country was rebuilding were “waiting in the wings, hoping that the U.S. government would send somebody in the arts."

From 1947 until 1953, Tierney took more than 25,000 photographs for that assignment. The J. Willard Marriott Library digitized 11,000 of those images and put them in an online collection for all to see.

Tierney will be the honored guest Thursday at 4:30 p.m. as his life's work goes on display on the first level of the Marriott Library.

As the Arts and Monuments Commissioner for General Douglas MacArthur during the Allied Forces' occupation of Japan, he explored an art-centered society. Tierney said his job was like stepping into paradise.

"Art was so completely universal, and available, and accessible, and affordable," he said.

When he first arrived, Tierney said the intelligentsia of Japan was waiting for him.

"They were hoping they were going to get somebody in the (Allied) occupation sympathetic to the arts, and I happened to be that person," he said.

For six years, he focused his cameras on the restoration of damaged cultural sites.

"It was a 24-hour a day, never-ending job," Tierney said.

Picturing the Past: Exploring Past Images of Japan with Professor Lennox Tierney

Opening Reception

The University of Utah's J. Willard Marriott Library, level 1, near the grand staircase.

Thursday, May 15, 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. Remarks by the presenter will be held at 5:10 p.m.

Directions to the library:
Park in the visitor lot west of the library, near the bookstore.

The reception is free and open to the public. For more information, go to this website or call 801- 585-7870.

He photographed and filmed every detail of the Japanese culture to make sure it was "respected, protected, restored," he said.

"You will find pictures of just about everything," said Marie Paiva, fine arts and architecture projects librarian.

The exhibit at the J. Willard Marriott Library highlights the people, monuments, gardens and other cultural icons battered by the war.

"While they are trying to develop or build up a country, one of the first things is to protect the arts and monuments," Pavia said.

Tierney turned 100 this year, and is still engaged in his work. He said he has returned to Japan each year since he left more than a half-century ago. He plans to guide a cultural tour in Japan in late October.

He said he is thrilled that his work will go on display at the library and online.

"I consider that collection to be my life's work," he added.

Seven years ago, Japan presented him the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun to show their appreciation for his work.

Reality is usually better than movies. Tierney said the film "Monuments Men" was too "Hollywood" — adding that they should have consulted with him on the project.


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Jed Boal


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