By Josephine Johnson
With all of the press about the recent blockbuster movie The Monuments Men, directed, written, and produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, imagine our surprise when we learned that there is a hooked rug in the Museum Textile Services study collection made by a monuments man!
In 2012, Victoria Blair-Smith brought a beautiful green velvet dress belonging to her mother to be conserved at MTS. The blog about the project, called Portrait of a Lady, discusses the dress's owner, Carla Meeks, née Marie Caroline Silvester, and her husband Carroll L. V. Meeks (Yale class of 1928), who taught architectural history at Yale University. The hooked rug above was made for the couple, who married in 1934, by Yale colleague Theodore "Tubby" Sizer.
Thanks to documentation recently sent to us by Blair-Smith, we learned that Theodore Sizer was the first chief of operations for the Monuments Men in Germany in 1944. Back home, Sizer pursued rug hooking as therapy for the head injury he acquired during the war. Carol Meeks' love for trains is clear in this rug, and Sizer included much personal information, including birth and graduation dates, along with the year of the couple's betrothal. If you look closely in the above photo of Sizer, you can see an oval hooked rug of a fish with the date 1951 on it behind him.
That is not the only connection between Museum Textile Services and the Monuments Men. The inspiration for George Clooney's character Frank Stokes was a well-known art conservator from Harvard Art Museums, George Stout. Stout spent many years in Europe and Japan rescuing artwork jeopardized by the war. Back at home, Stout was one of the founding members of the American Institute of Conservation, our primary membership organization. Stout was also a major proponent of creating formalized training programs for art conservation.
By Cara Jordan
Early in 2012, a curious textile arrived at our new studio. The hooked rug bears the proud image of a bulldog in a Yale sweater and an inscription reading “Handsome Dan II.” We were hooked (no pun intended)…who was this Handsome dog?
Handsome Dan I
Clue to Handsome Dan II’s identity are his blue sweater and the football next to him. After some research, we learned that the tradition of Handsome Dan began in 1889 when Yale got its first official mascot, Handsome Dan I. Handsome Dan, a bulldog, was purchased for $5.00 from a local blacksmith’s shop by Yale student Andrew Graves. Handsome Dan attended Yale’s football games and was trained to “speak to Harvard,” whereupon he would bark ferociously. He remained Yale’s mascot until his death in 1898. Handsome Dan’s body has been stuffed and can still be seen today in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium.
Handsome Dan’s successor, Handsome Dan II, came to Yale in 1933. He was bought with saved pennies by the freshman class and nicknamed “Bad Dan.” In 1934 he was kidnapped by Harvard students and photographed with the statue of John Harvard. Handsome Dan II passed away in 1937 due to complications from a broken leg.
Handsome Dan XVII, "Sherman"
Since then there have been a long succession of Handsome Dans at Yale. The likeness of Handsome Dan has even appeared on Christmas cards and is part of the Yale team logo. The newest Handsome Dan, Handsome Dan XVII, known as “Sherman,” has been part of the Yale tradition since 2007. Yale’s adoption of the bulldog as its mascot was the first officially recognized U.S. collegiate mascot. Since then many other colleges have also adopted the bulldog as their own.
Family records tell us that this hooked rug was made by Blanche Paull, the great grandmother of owner’s partner Matthew Carter. Ms Paull was an accomplished artist whose son Tom attended Yale. The rug likely dates to Handsome Dan II’s tenure, between 1933 and 1937.
MTS is looking forward to conserving this historic hooked rug so that the family can display it for future generations.