With the recent release of the George Clooney-directed film The Monuments Men, awareness has been raised about the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Division of the military during World War II and its role in protecting, rescuing, and restoring cultural objects from the ravages of war. While the film focuses on the role of the MFAA at the European front, the Monuments Men were also active on the Asian front, including Sherman E. Lee, an outstanding scholar and curator of Asian art, former director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and, in retirement, a longtime adjunct professor of art history at the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill and advisor to the Ackland Museum.
Per the Monuments Men Foundation:
A renowned expert on Asian art, Lee served as a Lieutenant in the Naval reserves from 1944 until 1946, when he began working as an advisor to the MFAA in Tokyo. In recognition of his service, the Japanese Government awarded Lee the Order of the North Star and the Order of the Sacred Treasures. He also received the Legion of Honor.
Prior to his military service, Lee received both his Bachelors and Masters of Arts from American University, and his doctorate degree from Case Western University in 1941. He became Curator of Far Eastern Art at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1941. From 1948 until 1952 he taught at the University of Washington and also was Associate Director at the Seattle Art Museum. In 1952, Lee began his long career at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Over the years he served as Chief Curator of Oriental Art, Assistant Director, and Associate Director, becoming Director in 1958. Lee retired from the Cleveland Museum in 1983 and began teaching as an adjunct professor of art history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Prior to his retirement, he also served as an art advisor to Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, encouraging them to expand their Asian art collection. As a distinguished Asian art scholar, Lee helped them build a world-class collection, which was later donated to the Asia Society in 1978. Willard Clark also sought his expertise when building his collection of Asian art. The Ruth and Sherman Lee Institute for Japanese Art was founded in his honor at the Clark Center near Fresno, California. Dr. Lee died in July 2008.