Bridgewater native Blake Ruehrwein of Rehoboth is a monument man

REHOBOTH – Sometimes that’s a good fit. Sometimes that’s a good fit. It’s rarely a perfect fit.

But U.S. Army Reserve Capt. Blake Ruehrwein, a Rehoboth resident and Bridgewater native, may have found a perfect candidate.

As a member of a military family, with six of the seven Ruehrwein siblings serving in the military, and an artist turned career curator, Ruehrwein, who is an Air Force veteran, works as a director education and public outreach for the Naval War College Museum in Newport, RI.

And in April, he re-enlisted as an officer in the Army Reserves to work with the modern equivalent of the famous World War II Monuments Men.

The two positions – his day job at the museum and his role as a commissioned officer of the reserve – seem to be at the precise crossroads of Ruehrwein’s life experiences with the military and lifelong passion for art, culture and heritage.

On April 9, Ruehrwein was sworn in as captain with his older brother, Chandler Ruehrwein, a career serviceman who served in the Marines and Army, reading the oath of office during a ceremony at Army National Guard Armory in Rehoboth.

A new adventure begins with an email designed as a joke

“I think the story of how I got this opportunity with the military is pretty funny,” Ruehrwein recalled.

“So two of my siblings who are in the military have done 20 years. One of them is retired, one of them is about to retire. And so, like there were so many of us in the army, it was always a joke, sort of, that they would be the two that were over 20, and they were joking with us about joining us again and doing 20 years too.

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“And so my older brother, Christian – he was one of those who did 20 – he saw this article in the New York Times about the military starting this new Monuments Men program and they were looking for people with experience museum. And so he sent it as a joke, copied us all saying, “Hey, that’s the only thing that could get Blake back in the military,” not realizing that would ultimately be true.

The October 21, 2019 article titled, “Army seeks a few good art experts,” revealed to Ruehrwein that the Army was preparing to relaunch its Monuments Men program for the first time since World War II and was indeed looking for a few “museums”. directors or curators, archivists, curators and archaeologists”.

“So probably about a month after I sent that in, which was 2019, I applied for the Army Reserve program. And then I got accepted in March 2020,” Ruehrwein said.

Monuments Men for the Modern World

The 2014 movie Monuments Menbased on the 2007 book The Monuments Men: Allied heroes, Nazi thieves and history’s greatest treasure hunt by Robert Edsel and featuring leading actors Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bill Murray and John Goodman, details the efforts of the Allied Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program to locate, protect and preserve works of art and cultural significance during the Nazi invasion of Europe in World War II.

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In 2009, the United States ratified the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property. The convention requires each participating nation to “plan or set up in peacetime, within its armed forces, specialized services or personnel whose object will be to ensure respect for cultural property and to cooperate with the civil authorities responsible for safeguarding them. ”

Today’s cultural heritage conservation officers, or monuments officers for short, like Ruehrwein, don’t quite follow the same script. Instead, they are stationed at military bases across the country and serve as liaisons and sources of information for ground units deployed in conflicts and natural disasters.

“It’s a range of different activities,” Ruehrwein said. “One advises commanders on meeting this legal obligation that we now have under the Hague Convention, which is to have people whose specialty is the preservation of cultural heritage as part of the armed forces.

“So when a commander is designing operations or exercises, or generally operating in a theater, the monuments officer will be there with him in discussions about who to talk to, what might affect the people of the host country in the theater of operations.

From the army to the art world and back again

Ruehrwein served in the Air Force from 2000 to 2004, and upon completion of his enlistment returned home to pursue studies in painting and sculpture at Bridgewater State University. He then moved to New York where he earned a master’s degree in art history and museum studies at the City College of New York. It was at this time that the transformation from artist to curator and educator began.

“Yes, I like to think I was born an artist. I moved to New York originally as a painter and sculptor after my undergrad, but then through my masters and other work, being a painter, sculptor evolved to become a curator.

Ruehrwein said he has an independent curatorial practice in New York where he works with artists and organizes shows and events. But in 2017, he moved to Massachusetts with his wife Amber and oldest son, Asa, settling in Rehoboth and teaching art history at Mass Bay Community College and Bridgewater State. Today, Blake and Amber have three children: Asa, 6, Lexi, 4, and Kensie, 2.

Landing at the Naval War College Museum, and now with the new Monuments Men program, Ruehrwein seems to have come full circle and blocked the landing.

“I feel like it was tailor-made for me,” he said.

“I worked for many different museums and organizations there (in New York). I worked for the 9/11 museum in New York. But I never imagined that I would come full circle and have the opportunity to join the military and continue my work in the cultural and heritage industry.”

The road ahead

“I look forward to using these experiences and skills within the military to show all other servicemen what I have always believed that the military and the cultural sector, you could consider them as two things that have nothing to do with each other but are actually very intertwined in their missions and in a lot of things they do.

“And so for me, it’s always been obvious, and now I can show people, especially the military, how aligned they are.”

Taunton Daily Gazette editor Jon Haglof can be contacted at jhaglof@tauntongazette.com. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Taunton Daily Gazette today.

James C. Tibbs