Cori Wegener, the cultural heritage preservation officer at the Smithsonian Institution, will discuss “The Worst of Times: Protecting Heritage in Armed Conflicts and Natural Disasters” at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, in the auditorium of O’Shaughnessy Educational Center on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.
The talk, free and open to the public, is sponsored by the university’s Art History Department. It is the third in a series of four lectures at St. Thomas this year on the topic of stolen and looted art, and comes two weeks after the release of “The Monuments Men,” a World War II story about efforts to save and return art treasures looted by the Third Reich.
In her work at Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., Wegener coordinates efforts internationally to safeguard cultural heritage collections in times of natural disasters, wars and other challenges. Before joining the Smithsonian, she was an associate curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
During her years in Minneapolis, the City Pages newspaper called her “the Clark Kent of museum work” for her work as president of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, an organization that emerged from the 1954 Hague Convention to prevent the kind of plunder depicted in “The Monuments Men.”
And as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, with the title of Arts, Monuments and Archives Officer, she helped the Iraq National Museum recover and preserve its collection after the looting during the U.S. invasion of 2003. Among other projects, she traveled to Haiti after its earthquake and has consulted with officials in Egypt.
“Cori is a modern-day monuments woman and her role in protecting the world's cultural heritage is crucial and necessary for future generations,” said Dr. Victoria Young, a member of St. Thomas’ art history faculty
“In disaster planning and response, people always come first, but cultural heritage is often overlooked until it’s too late to save it,” Wegener said in a fall 2012 interview with Minnesota Public Radio.
“There are always bad people who will take advantage of a bad situation,” she told City Pages in spring 2011.
While retired from the military, she continues to serve on the boards of the U.S. Committee of the International Council of Museums and the U.S. Military Civil Affairs Association.
Wegener holds graduate degrees in art history and political science from the University of Kansas.
During the fall semester, the St. Thomas Art History Department hosted talks on stolen art by Los Angeles Times reporter Jason Felch, author of Chasing Aphrodite, and Dr. Victoria Reed, an international expert in tracing the history and ownership of art and the Sadler Curator for Provenance at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
More information about the Art History Department’s lecture series can be found on the department’s website.