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Paul Gardner Papers

Identifier: MSS-002

Scope and Contents Note

The Paul Gardner Papers, 1916-1950 consist of 9 linear feet of letters, class notes, tests and papers, study materials, catalogues, programs, invoices, travel schedules, maps and bills, check stubs and photographs. These papers document the personal and academic life of Paul Gardner as well as some aspects of his professional life.


  • Creation: 1916-1950
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1917-1932

Restrictions on Access

Open to researchers. Appointments are necessary for the use of manuscript and archival collections.

Conditions Governing Use Note

Notification of intent to publish, quote, or cite archival materials is required. Contact the archives via

Biographical / Historical Note

Joseph Paul Gardner was born October 20, 1894, in Boston, MA, to Joseph Alexander Gardner and Emma Blanch Crowell Gardner. His mother's family were architects in California, and builders of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

He attended MIT for a time with the intent of becoming an architect, but he left before graduating to join the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corp in 1917. He served in France during World War I, attained the rank of Captain and was awarded the Croix De Guerre with Palm at age 21. At the end of the war, he traveled around Europe studying architecture with an architectural career in mind. However, these travels served to discourage his architecture career. He then sought a career in diplomacy. He received his B.A. in history from George Washington University, Washington, DC, in 1928 and his M.A. in history the following year.

The summers between 1920 and 1930 were spent in Europe studying the art of various countries. His years in Washington, DC were also spent as a ballet dancer and dance instructor. Mr. Gardner was the Ballet Master for the Washington Opera Company. He was co-owner, and a teacher for, the Tchernikoff Gardnier School of Dancing, performing with Lisa Gardnier (Lina Basquette) as the Tchernikoff Gardnier Dancers. His stage name was Paul Tchernikoff.

In 1930, he decided to focus on art. He entered the Ph.D program at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum in order to prepare himself for museum work. Before he could complete his degree, he left to become assistant to the Trustees of the William Rockhill Nelson Foundation in March of 1932 which was followed by his appointment as first Director of the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts in 1933. Mr. Gardner supervised installations and worked behind the scenes readying the museum for its official opening in December 1933. His initial work helped to shape the character of the museum. He initiated lecture series and shows designed to instill an appreciation of art among Kansas Citians.

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 where he briefly served as military governor. As the first Monuments Man to reach mainland Italy, Gardner accompanied the 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, a lieutenant colonel, later served as Director of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section (“Monuments Men”) of the Allied Military Government in Italy until war’s end.

The highlight of his career was the acquisition and installation of the Kress Collection (22 pieces of early Italian paintings and four sculpture pieces) in October of 1952. He resigned as Director of the Gallery in May 1953 in order to travel and write. For the last 19 years of his life he spent his summers on his ranch, Las Milpas, at San Patricio, near Lincoln, New Mexico, and his winters in Italy, often on the island of Ischia. He died September 11, 1972, in Lincoln, New Mexico, at the age of 77.


2.8 Linear Feet (In 6 legal document cases, 1 half legal document case, and 1 photo box.)

Language of Materials



The first Director of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art from 1933-1953, Paul Gardner studied at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum and George Washington University. Gardner also served in the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corp during World War I and in the U.S. Army on the Arts and Monuments Commission in Italy and as Military Governor of the Italian island of Ischia, during World War II.


This collection has been divided into four series: World War I, 1916-1919; Washington, DC, 1923-1932; Harvard, Fogg Art Museum, 1930-1932; Director of The William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, 1932-1950.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift; accession numbers associated with this collection are 1996-05 and 1996-08.

Accruals Note

Additions to the collection are not anticipated.

Finding Aid of the Paul Gardner Papers, MSS 002
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Archives Repository

4525 Oak St.
Kansas City MO 64111 United States