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Lost art of a war hero found in Gorham

Andre Belanger (left), Norman Thibodeau (center), and Paul Croteau (right) hold art pieces that were recently discovered in a vacant house in Gorham. Thibodeau found the art and sold it to Croteau, and Belanger helped to restore it. The art is from a WWII Monument Man who died in action saving cultural art from the Nazi's. Photo by Jody Houle. (click for larger version)
March 05, 2014
GORHAM – George Clooney's new 2014 movie The Monuments Men depicts the true story of American troops during World War II who saved cultural art from the Nazis. The signature of one of those cultural art hero's, Walter Johan Huchthausen, has recently turned up in Gorham on a collection of masterpieces.

Norman Thibodeau, owner of Great North Woods Container Services in Berlin, received a call about a vacant house in Gorham and some furniture for sale. A collection of dusty, dirty art pieces with broken picture frames and full of cobwebs were sitting in a room on the floor. Thidodeau thought nothing of them at first as he did his business with the house. He hauled out the art and put it on his work bench where they sat for a month and a half. He thought of his friend, Paul Croteau, an art collector in Berlin, and he gave him a call. Croteau, who had been on vacation in Florida, liked the art and purchased it from Thibodeau for a few hundred dollars not yet knowing the significance of the collection. After a google search on the signature that appeared on some of the 13 pieces, Huchthausen's name came up, and Croteau was very excited to learn the history on The Monuments Men.

Croteau turned to Andre Belanger, artist and owner of Studio Works in Berlin, in hopes of restoring and preserving the pieces, and to get a possible assessment on the value. After cleaning them up, Belanger noticed an array of different mediums and mixed-media, including water colors, ink and pencil drawings, and charcoal crayon in the style of pre-World War II industrial with a sense of art-deco. Many of them are landscapes and cityscapes. Before Croteau told him of the historic significance, Belanger assessed that all 13 pieces were made by the same hand.

"You can't dispute the studies," said Belanger. "They are very recognizable, with similar lines, people and time-frame."

He was taken aback after he learned of the name of the artist.

"A man gave his life to put the highest of value on art, to save the soul of our cultures," said Belanger.

One art collector has offered six digits for all 13 pieces to Croteau. He refused. He is looking into other outlets to sell the art. Huchthausen was a professor at the University of Minnesota and a piece that is very similar to one found in Gorham has turned up. A grand opening will be held at the university and Croteau hopes to possibly have an exhibit there.

During World War II, part of Hitler's agenda was to steal and destroy cultural art with the intention to also destroy culture. The United States and Allied Military Government set out to save the art and formed the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) later known as The Monuments Men. . Huchthausen, born in Perry, Oklahoma in 1904, became a member of the MFAA and was killed in action in April of 1945 while saving cultural art.

"He was a hero of art," said Croteau.

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