The story almost sounds like a tale from the “Antiques Roadshow”: a large closet full of art objects stored in a disorganized fashion. Mysterious works acquired over many decades from all around the world, of different ages, media and stylistic approaches. Many lack documentation; most need further research.
But the biggest surprise here is that the location of this treasure trove was the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) in Leavenworth, Kansas. Founded in 1881, the CGSC offers an intensive program to train military officers in the skills of leadership. The course is 10 months long; each year approximately 1,100 students graduate, of which 120 or so are foreign students. Some notable graduates include Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, Dwight Eisenhower and George S. Patton. Celebrated alumni are not limited to Americans, as the current king of Bahrain and the first democratic king of Indonesia have also attended CGSC. This is a graduate school that wields enormous impact upon world affairs.
Appreciative graduates, visiting dignitaries and other supporters have given the college nearly 4,000 gifts over the years. One of the earliest recorded gifts received by CGSC was in 1943 and presented by Polish delegations who had attended the school. By the 1970s an annual tradition of bestowing a commissioned work of art from the graduating class was established.
In 2016, Kansas City gallery owner Todd Weiner was invited to visit the campus of CGSC by a longtime friend, Westy Westmoreland, who also happened to be on the school’s board. Weiner was subsequently asked to investigate the CGSC’s art holdings and make some basic recommendations regarding the care, conservation, storage and future display of the items in the collection. Weiner proposed the creation of a complete digitized inventory as well as a series of exhibitions that would transport objects from their obscure storage closet into the public eye. Thus, the Art of War Initiative was established.
The initial exhibition of works from the school’s collection was held at the Todd Weiner Gallery; a subsequent show took place in Lenexa City Hall. The most recent exhibition was at Box Gallery at Commerce Bank (June 2 to July 28). Visitors saw an impressive variety of works: Spanish shot glasses inspired by the designs of the architect Antoni Gaudi, a Saudi Arabian incense burner, a carved wooden water buffalo from the Philippines and a delicate wooden birdcage from Tunisia were just a few of the items shown.
Numerous exhibitions, along with other projects and related activities, are in the works. Upcoming shows will be held September/October 2017 at the Johnson County Library, Merriam, Kan.; October/November 2017 at the Country Club Bank, Kansas City, Mo.; January/February 2018 at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, Mo.; February/March 2018 at the Prairie Fire Museum, Johnson County, Kan.; April 2018 at the Kansas City Women’s Symphony, Kansas City, Mo.; and May 2018 at the Jewish Community Center, Johnson County, Kan.
More and updated information can be found at the website: www.theartofwarinitiative.org.