Mark Ritter Sponenburgh (1916-2012)
Sculptor, art collector, and professor, Mark Ritter Sponenburgh was born in Cadillac, Michigan in 1916. He studied at the University of Michigan before beginning his formal training in fine arts at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. At Cranbrook, he studied under well-known sculptors Marshall Fredericks and Carl Milles. After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1940, he began work as a sculptor.
In April 1942 Sponenburgh enlisted in the Corps of Engineers as part of the 9th Engineers Command. At Command headquarters in Paris, he worked in the cartography section analyzing and reproducing maps. His unit participated in the D-Day landings at Normandy, and eventually advanced across Europe through France, Holland, Belgium, and the Rhineland. After joining the MFAA he was initially stationed at the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point. In September 1945 he was transferred to the salt mine at Altaussee, Austria, the primary Nazi storage depot for Hitler’s extensive collection of looted art and other cultural objects intended for his Führermuseum in Linz, Austria. Sponenburgh assisted in the carefully-planned operation to transfer the items to the Munich Central Collecting Point for sorting, cataloguing, and eventual restitution to the countries from which they had been stolen.
After his discharge, Sponenburgh remained in Europe to continue his graduate studies. He studied at the Ecôle des Beaux Arts in Paris, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and received degrees from the University of Cairo in 1952, and the University of London in 1957. He was later awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the National Council of Arts in 1970.
In addition to his work as an art student and scholar, Sponenburgh pursued a career as an influential educator. He was Professor of Sculpture at the University of Oregon from 1946 to 1956 and a visiting professor at the Royal College of Arts in London from 1956 to 1957. Beginning in 1958, he taught art in Egypt and Pakistan as a Fulbright Research Fellow. He remained in Pakistan for a further two years, where he was a professor at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan. In 1961 he accepted an invitation to teach art history at Oregon State University, where he remained until his retirement in 1983 as Professor Emeritus. Today, the university maintains the Sponenburgh Travel Award, given annually to an advanced graduate student for studies abroad.
Sponenburgh was a member of the International Association of Egyptologists, the Royal Society of Arts, the Royal Society of Antiquaries, the International Association of Art Historians, the American Research Center in Egypt, and the Oxford Society. In 1990 Mark and his wife, Janeth Hogue Sponenburgh, donated their extensive art collection to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. A cornerstone of the museum’s collection, the Mark and Janeth Sponenburgh Gallery includes over 250 Ancient, European, Middle Eastern, and Asian art objects.
Mark Sponenburgh died in Oregon in 2012. Today, some of his sculptures are on display at the Detroit Institute of Art, the Portland Art Museum, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the University of Oregon, and Oregon State University.