Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lennox Tierney bows as he greets koto musicians Hatsumi Bryant and Kimiko Osterloh as he enters his 100th birthday party. Cathy Edens, right, a former student of his, organized the party. Tierney perserved Japanese art as Arts and Monuments Commissioner under Gen. Douglas MacArthur after WWII. The party was held at La Caille, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014.
Utah professor was a real-life ‘Monuments Man’
Japanese art » Like the characters in upcoming film, Lennox Tierney found, preserved thousands of artworks after World War II.
First Published Feb 02 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Feb 02 2014 07:51 pm

Built in 1612, the Nagoya Castle was a layer cake of curling roofs topped with golden dolphins surrounded by one of the largest cities in Japan.

By the time Lennox Tierney got there, it was a pile of rubble.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"Nagoya took the worst destruction, almost, of any city in the world. More than Hiroshima," said Tierney. "Our bombers were given instructions they were not to take back any live bombs."

While those weren’t atomic bombs, they had wreaked havoc on the city.

"It was total destruction. There was no way of knowing what street I was on, what part of the city, anything. I was literally steering by the North Star," he said. "I finally found myself next to a massive stone ... it was the base of what had been the castle."

Tierney went to Japan in 1947, serving as Arts and Monuments Commissioner in the U.S. Navy under Gen. Douglas MacArthur as part of the occupation government of Japan. He was tasked with tracking down, cataloging and saving what he could of the artistic and cultural history of Japan shattered by World War II.

Tierney, who celebrated his 100th birthday last week , lived something similar to the forthcoming movie "Monuments Men," though much of his art-hunting happened half a world away from the European theater in the film.

His interest in Asia started at a young age, when his pharmacist father was sent to the Philippines by the military to look for medicinal plants after the Spanish-American War. The Japanese influence in craftsman design magazines his mother loved sealed the deal, and when he entered college at UCLA he self-created a major in Asian art.

After graduation, Tierney started teaching a military technical-training course in Beverly Hills — until the day when an admiral asked him to leave on a mission in 48 hours.

"I said, ‘Of course not. I couldn’t possibly do that,’ " Tierney said. He said, ‘Well, it happens to be important.’ "

story continues below
story continues below

After some negotiating, he shipped out for training within two weeks.

"My family all came to see me off and no one knew where I was going," he said. He ended up flying to Salt Lake City  and was driven to Boulder, Colo., when he started "22 months of hell. Physical, mental, the whole works."

In a recent interview, he remembered Japanese language teachers placing a foot between their students’ feet to nudge them awake when they dropped off. Tierney was 24 when his training ended.

On a visit home before he was shipped off, he went to a going-away party for a woman named Catherine Peha, who was also headed to Japan.

"It was love at first sight," Tierney said. Her Jewish family had been driven from Spain in the 17th century to an island in the Mediterranean Sea before they ended up in California.

"I made a mental note once I got to Japan to look her up," he said, but he didn’t initially have much luck. "She was busy all the time!"

He was also working hard in Japan, with duties that ranged from supervising a team charged with purging propaganda from children’s textbooks to advising the unschooled MacArthur on Japanese culture. He found an eager reception from the Japanese.

"They were just hoping for a friendly voice in the occupation government," he said, someone who would speak up to preserve Japan’s history and heritage.

And that didn’t only mean paintings or sculpture. Gardens are a distinct and historic art form in Japan, one that Tierney explored and cataloged during his time there. As he visited gardens, he started seeing a mysterious, ghostly figure wearing a black overcoat seemingly dogging his steps.

It turned out to be Issuu Noguchi, "the greatest Japanese-American sculptor," he said. He teamed up with the artist and they started traveling the country together.

Tierney was able to save some important works, such as a sculpture of a monk with a bronze wire coming out of his mouth mounted with tiny Buddhas.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.