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Skelton, Dorothy G.S. | Skilton, Lt. John D., Jr. | Smyth, Lt. Craig Hugh, USNR


Skilton, Lt. John D., Jr.  

Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Officer

Prior to his service in the U.S. Army, Skilton worked as a curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Along with other future Monuments Men, Craig Hugh Smyth, Charles Parkhurst, and Lamont Moore, he took part in the evacuation of seventy-five of the museum’s most important works to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. From January to June of 1943, Skilton supervised the maintenance and care of the artworks as a curator in residence at their temporary home. Soon after, he was called on to join the MFAA as the Allied troops prepared for their invasion of Normandy.

After D-Day in 1944, Skilton joined troops on their march across northern France, inspecting and repairing great cultural monuments along the way. On August 28, 1944, American troops entered the small town of Plougastel-Daoulas, near the city of Brest. Lt. Skilton was among them, and noticed a damaged Calvary scene near a destroyed church. The large monument was like many others built across Brittany, a four-sided sculpture representing scenes from life and death of Christ. This particular Cavalry was most likely constructed in 1598 by the Sire de Kereraod to praise God for having brought an end to the plague in Plougastel. Skilton, in awe of its beauty and understanding of its cultural value, collected the numerous statues from the damaged Calvary and stored them in the attic of the presbytery. He pledged to help salvage the grand sculpture if he survived the war, and upon his return home to the States, founded the Plougastel Calvaire Restoration Fund to raise funds for the restoration. The work was completed in 1948-49 by the sculptor John Millet. For his dedication to the town, Skilton was named an Honorary Citizen of Plougastel on July 16, 1959 and a town square was also named after him.

The survival of the Tiepolo ceiling at the Residenz palace in Würzburg, Germany was also largely due to Lt. Skilton’s dedication and ingenuity. The palace had suffered twenty-three minutes of intense Allied bombing on March 16, 1945, and the roof of the central vault was destroyed, leaving Tiepolo’s Olympus and the Four Continents exposed to the elements. Skilton was summoned to Würzburg to attempt to salvage the painting as well as the palace itself. For several weeks, he looked for lumber in order to repair the roof, and eventually found a stash of logs near Ochsenfurt, which he floated down the Main River to Heidingsfeld. Here, he personally financed a sawmill to have the logs cut. Skilton oversaw a team of German architects, engineers, and laborers who worked to repair the roof before rains could destroy the magnificent ceiling. However, final restoration was not begun until 1952, and was eventually completed in 1990. In honor of his exemplary work in Würzburg, Skilton was awarded the Verdienst Kreuz, First Class by the West German government.

Before his return home, Skilton also assisted with the recovery of artworks at Neuschwanstein castle, as well as the salvage of a barge full of medieval archives found near the Castle Rothenfels. After his service, he resumed his work as a curator and art historian, working at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Parke-Bernet Gallery in New York.
 

 


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