Alumna is Modern-day ‘Monuments Woman’

Originally posted by KU News service 

University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts & Sciences alumna Corine Wegener has been called a modern-day “monuments woman” for her dedication to protect cultural heritage in some of the most dangerous and devastated areas of the world.corine100

Just as groups of World War II soldiers were sent to Europe to recover Nazi stolen art, as depicted in the Hollywood film “The Monuments Men,” Wegener has traveled into war-torn countries to help museum staff save its cultural treasures.

Wegener was sent to Iraq in 2003 after thousands of artifacts were looted from the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad. Inspired by her experience there, she founded the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, a nonprofit organization that Wegener describes as the Red Cross of culture and heritage. Today, Wegener is a cultural heritage preservation officer for the Smithsonian Institution. She has worked with museum staff in Egypt, Libya, Mali, Syria and Haiti.

In the spring of 2003 during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Wegener was an assistant curator of decorative arts, textiles and sculpture at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and about to be deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Reserve. From her living room, she began following reports of looters ransacking Iraq’s prized collection of Mesopotamian relics at the Iraq National Museum.

“I was really shocked from a military perspective knowing that the military has planners that look at how to prevent damage to cultural heritage sites when we are doing military operations,” Wegener said. “From an art historian’s perspective, my heart really went out to the staff there because I can only imagine how devastating that must be.”

Wegener made a few phone calls to inquire about the Army’s response to the looters. Those calls prompted the Army to redirect her deployment from Afghanistan to Baghdad, where she served as a military liaison to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture.

Once in Iraq, she assisted museum staff and law enforcement in recovering stolen objects and repairing the damage done by looters. Along with a policy that allowed amnesty to looters that returned artifacts, sting operations were put into place with law enforcement officers posing as buyers for the looted material.Wegner Quote

In all, 40 to 50 percent of the 15,000 items that went missing were returned. For Wegener, the most thrilling recovery was the Lady of Warka sculpture, a 5,000-year-old carved marble female mask that is thought to be one of the earliest known naturalistic representations of a female goddess.

After nine months in Iraq, Wegener retired from the Army and returned to her position in Minneapolis. But her experience in Iraq showed her that there were other liked-minded people who wanted to do more to protect cultural heritage worldwide. She began forming networks of people with the aim to convince U.S. leaders to officially ratify the 1954 Hague Convention, an international treaty that requires countries to prevent the destruction of cultural property in times of war.

To support the implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention, Wegener founded and led the nonprofit organization the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield. In 2008, the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty. And, the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield began to help train U.S. military units deploying abroad so they could better protect cultural heritage.

“They have really raised their level of training and awareness in the last 10 years in a way that I didn’t think was possible back in 2003,” Wegener said.

In 2012, Wegener took the position of cultural heritage preservation officer at the Smithsonian Institution. It’s a role that recently has taken her to Turkey to train curators on how to protect artifacts caught in the opposition-controlled areas of Syria, to Egypt to assess the damage caused by a truck bomb that exploded near the Museum of Islamic Art and to Mali to work with museum staff on emergency planning and how to better connect to the community.

“You can’t really go forward, if you can’t see where you have been,” Wegener said of the importance of cultural preservation during times of chaos. “We owe it to our children and their children to be able to tell the story of what happened, even if there has been a horrible tragedy.”

While at KU, Wegener said she never thought her graduate degrees in art history and political science would lead to the career she has today. But she’s thankful both degrees gave her a broad liberal arts education.

“I just thought I was someone who couldn’t make up their mind on what master’s degree I wanted,” Wegener said. “I was able to tie all these things together in a career field that I never even knew existed when I was getting my master’s at KU. And, that is the message that I hope to bring to students – whatever you are studying now, you will probably use it in something you haven’t even thought of.”

Wegener will give a lecture titled “From Berlin to Baghdad: When Art Historians Go to War” at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 2 in the Spencer Museum of Art Auditorium. Wegener will deliver the lecture because she is being honored by the Kress Foundation Department of Art History as the 2014 Franklin D. Murphy Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient. The department and the Spencer Museum of Art are sponsoring the lecture.

Extracurricular Activities: Tom Beisecker, orchardist

Tom Beisecker is an associate professor and the Department of Communication Studies chair. He and Andrea Norris operate Beisecker Farms –  a commercial apple orchard located near Baldwin City. 

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When and why did you decide to become involved with the orchard?

The orchard is my creation.  I first planted apple trees in 1978 when we moved to the country, and I’ve been adding trees and apple varieties periodically.  The latest plantings were in 2012, and I anticipate replacing some of the trees next year.  We started with what, in the 1970’s, were the standard apple varieties – Jonathan, Red Delicious, McIntosh and Winesap.  We added Golden Delicious, Galas and Romes about ten years later, and we currently have 13 different varieties under cultivation.

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What’s the best part about working on the operation?

Being outside.  We need to prune the trees every year, and pruning can be very therapeutic.

With any agricultural operation some of the best parts and greatest frustrations go hand in hand.  It is very satisfying to see an apple tree laden with properly colored fruit and to market apples that have flavor you can get only when locally grown.  The companion frustration is that some years Kansas weather just doesn’t cooperate.

What is your favorite apple recipe?

Braised Pork Chops with Apple & Onion

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless pork chops
  • 1 large tart apple (Granny Smith works well)
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 1 tbs Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Finely slice the onion.  Core and finely slice the apple.

In a medium frying pan, cook the onion and apple over moderate heat with a small amount of olive oil until the onion is transparent.  Remove from the pan to a bowl.

In the same pan cook the pork chops.  When they are almost done, return the apple and onion mixture to the pan.  Add the Balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, salt and pepper and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by at least one third.  Serve.

Meet the new director of the Honors Program

Bryan YoungBryan Young, associate professor in the in the University of Kansas Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering, as the new director for the University Honors Program, as of June 1.

The University Daily Kansan interviewed Young on his new position and his vision for the Honors Program. Read the article here. Continue reading

John Gurche, Distinguished Alumni event photos

John Gurche was named one of the 2013-14 Distinguished Alumni of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas, the highest honor from the College. He was recognized at a special event in Kansas City on May 1.

B. Lynn Pascoe, Distinguished Alumni event photos

B. Lynn Pascoe was named one of the 2013-2014 Distinguished Alumni of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas, the highest honor from the College. He was recognized at a special event in Washington, DC on April 24, 2014.

KU students, alumni, faculty bring WWI history to life

KU WWI logo

The KU WWI Project will commemorate the centennial of the war with four years of projects and events to bring the past into the present. This image incorporates an illustration from the 1918 Jayhawker yearbook.

When a long-dead archduke and his assassin begin following you on Twitter, odds are that something interesting is about to happen. What has led Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Gavrilo Princip to follow the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences on Twitter, as well as many other campus accounts, is an inventive effort to bring history to life in the present. Continue reading

Share your summer with the Journeying Jayhawk

journeying-jayhawk-pantheonHeading somewhere near or far this summer? The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences’ Journeying Jayhawk wants to join your #CLASjourney!

How it works:

Graduation Profile: Honduran filmmaker looks to the future

Honduran filmmaker, Hispano Durón, looks to a creative future making films and teaching at the University of Honduras after successfully achieving his Ph.D in film and media studies.

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Durón gives keynote speech at the II El Heraldo Film Festival in Honduras, October 2013.

Being a filmmaker in Honduras is no easy feat. That didn’t stop KU doctoral student Hispano Durón from writing and directing the first Honduran feature film of the millennia – and only one of a few Honduran feature films ever.

With no film school in the country, Durón left home early to pursue his dream. He received his bachelor’s degree in film from the Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión, a school founded by recently deceased Colombian writer, Gabriel García Márquez, and legendary Argentine filmmaker, Fernando Birri.
Continue reading

Graduation Profile: Elementary art educator returns to finish what she started

After leaving campus 52 years ago, Marie Franklin will finally walk down the hill as a KU grad.

“You know there’s nothing worse than saying you graduated from this other little college, when what you’d really like to say is that you graduated from the University of Kansas.”

Marie Franklin on the KU campus, May 1962

Fifty-two years ago, newlywed Marie Franklin moved to Texas just one year shy of her degree in art education from KU. She completed an elementary education degree there and taught elementary school for decades, yet always felt she was missing something.
Continue reading

Graduation Profile: Program empowers student to build mentorship network for female police officers

Lacking a support network while climbing the ranks, Sonta Wilburn looked to a Master’s in Public Administration to build leadership capacity for herself, others

Sonta Wilburn and her family

As Sonta Wilburn worked her way up to major and patrol commander with the Overland Park Police Department, she found few other women in her situation to talk to about the experience. She has used her experience in her Master’s of Public Administration program to develop more networking opportunities for women in police forces around the Kansas City area.

“We need more female leaders.”

It’s a sentiment often heard, yet Sonta Wilburn had experienced its truth firsthand in the police force. Now a major and patrol commander in Overland Park, she worked her way up the ranks to her current position without many female mentors to consult. Continue reading