If you saw the 2014 film The Monuments Men you already know a little about a key player in the formation of BACC, even if you don't realize it. Remember Frank Stokes, the main character played by the one and only George Clooney? It turns out that George Leslie Stout, one of the founders of the Balboa Art Conservation Center (BACC), was the real-life inspiration behind Clooney’s mustachioed role.
A pioneer in the field of art conservation, Stout was the Director of Technical Research at Harvard’s Fogg Museum and a part-time Conservator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum before helping to establish the American Defense Harvard Group. This group was instrumental to the formation of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Area. Later known as the Roberts Commission, it was “charged with promoting the preservation of cultural properties in war areas, provided this mission did not interfere with military operations.”
In 1943 Stout enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he was initially charged with testing and developing camouflage paint and techniques for military aircraft. Later he was transferred to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section where he used his professional knowledge to help transport and save precious works of art throughout Europe. Harvard Magazine notes that “When George Stout left Europe in August 1945 after little more than 13 months, he had discovered, analyzed, and packed tens of thousands of pieces of artwork, including 80 truckloads from Altaussee alone.”
After Stout returned to the United States, he resumed his post at Harvard’s Fogg Museum, and later accepted positions as the Director of the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1947 and as Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum from 1955 to 1970.
A few years after his retirement from the Gardner, Stout was serving as the visiting director at Timken Museum of Art, where he noticed a growing need to establish a conservation center for the San Diego area’s growing cultural heritage. He teamed up with Henry Gardiner, the director at the time of the San Diego Art Museum, to develop a plan for the center and in 1974 the Balboa Conservation Center was born. A year later the center was incorporated as a private, nonprofit organization and renamed the Balboa Art Conservation Center.
Sources: Monuments Men Foundation, Harvard Magazine.