Howard C. Hollis (1899-1985)
Howard Coonley Hollis was born in 1899 in Concord, Massachusetts. After attending Cornell University, he received a Master of Arts from Harvard University in 1924. Soon after graduation, he traveled to Peking, China, where he lived for three and a half years. While there, he immersed himself in the Chinese culture and became fluent in Chinese. After his return, Hollis worked as assistant curator of Chinese art at Harvard’s Fogg Museum and as Secretary of the Harvard-Yenching Institute. In 1929, he became curator of Far Eastern and Near Eastern Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, where he remained until his leave of absence to serve with the MFAA, which in Japan was called “Arts and Monuments.”
Hollis was named Officer in Charge of the Far East division of the MFAA in Tokyo, Japan in 1946. In this position, he oversaw the field work of fellow Monuments Men Sherman E. Lee, Charles F. Gallagher, and Capt. Walter D. Popham. Together, these American specialists in Eastern art collaborated with the Japanese Ministry of Education to register, inspect, and preserve Japanese monuments, ancient temples, national parks, and cultural objects damaged during the war by Allied bombings.
While in Japan, Hollis became frustrated with what he saw as a cultural divide between Japanese artists and Allied personnel. In particular, Hollis noted the “lack of the first-class quality [of Japanese crafts] desirable to many individuals in high places.” He lamented that a “gulf exists between what the Japanese consider good and what they think good for Allied personnel.” As part of their mission, the MFAA Officers in Japan worked closely with Japanese officials to encourage the public display of Japanese works of art through local artists, museums, and cultural organizations. A number of exhibitions were opened at the Tokyo National Museum, the Hakutsuru Museum, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Gallery, and the Municipal Museum at Ueno Park. These exhibitions also served to bridge the cultural gap between the Japanese people and the Allied personnel.
Upon his return to the United States in 1948, Hollis resumed his post as curator of Far Eastern and Near Eastern Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art. There, he hoped to better expose the American public to the fine quality of Japanese craftsmanship he had witnessed firsthand during his work with the MFAA. However, he soon became frustrated with bureaucratic roadblocks at the museum and resigned from his post. In 1949, he formed Howard Hollis & Company and became a highly respected dealer of imported Asian art from Japan. In addition to wealthy private collectors such as the Sackler family, his clients included the Seattle Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Hollis was able to use his lifelong career as an expert on Asian art to locate the finest works available during multiple trips to Japan. In 1961, his successful business expanded to a second showroom in New York City.
After a long and successful career, Howard Hollis retired to New Hampshire, where he died in 1985.
*The Foundation wishes to express thanks to Renée Albiston for her contribution to this biographical profile.
Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art Archives.