top of page

 Joseph Paul Gardner (1894-1972) 


Architect, dancer, and museum director, Joseph Paul Gardner was born in Somerville, Massachusetts on October 20, 1894. He began his studies in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but left in 1917 to join the U.S. Army. During World War I, he served in the American Expeditionary Forces, designed trains for Railway Artillery with the Heavy Artillery Board, and saw active duty at the front in command of Battery H, 53rd Artillery, Coast Artillery Corps in France. For his bravery at the front, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm and Fourragère.


After World War I, Gardner traveled extensively throughout Europe studying architecture and viewing the world’s greatest works of art. His focus soon turned to dance. In addition to nine years as a dancer with Anna Pavlova’s Ballet Company, he became Ballet Master for the Washington Opera Company and co-owner of the Tchernikoff Gardnier School of Dancing. He then resumed his studies, earning a Bachelor’s degree in European history from George Washington University in 1928 and a Master’s degree in art history from Harvard in 1932. While he was a graduate student at Harvard, Gardner was chosen to assist in early preparations for what is now the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. In September 1933 he was selected as the first director of the museum, which opened to the public two months later.


During World War II, Gardner served in the U.S. Army. His service as a Monuments Man began in Ischia, a small volcanic island in the Gulf of Naples. The first Monuments Man to reach mainland Italy, Gardner accompanied U.S. Fifth Army into Naples in October 1943. He carried out inspections of the ruined city, where extensive bombing had destroyed the main sources of water and electricity. Gardner later served as Director of the MFAA Section of the Allied Military Government (AMG) for the liberated provinces of Italy until war’s end.


Upon his return home from Europe, Gardner resumed his work at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. In May 1953 he retired to his ranch in New Mexico, where he died on September 11, 1972.

Photo courtesy of the Walter Gleason Collection, The Monuments Men Foundation Collection, the National WWII Museum, New Orleans, LA.

bottom of page