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Camposanto, Piazza Miracoli, Pisa, Italia, September 7, 2007 | by Ivan S. Abrams
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Camposanto, Piazza Miracoli, Pisa, Italia, September 7, 2007

Deane Keller appears to have been a fascinating person. He was an artist and a teacher at Yale University. He also served as a Fine Arts officer with the US Army during World War II and helped save many artistic and cultural treasures from destruction or looting. Here's a biographical sketch from the Yale University website devoted to Mr. Keller:


Biographical Sketch


Deane Keller was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on December 14, 1901. He was the son of Caroline Gussman Keller and Albert Galloway Keller, Yale Professor of Sociology and disciple of William Graham Sumner. Keller grew up in New Haven and received his high school education at the Taft School. He graduated from Yale University in 1923 with a degree in history and science. Despite the protests of his father, Keller went on to pursue his true interest in art at the Yale School of Fine Arts, earning a B.F.A. in 1926. Keller was awarded a Prix de Rome in the subsequent year on the basis of his submission of an allegorical painting, and spent three years studying at the American Academy in Rome. He began his lifelong career as a teacher at the Yale School of the Fine Arts in 1929 as an Instructor of Painting and Drawing. In 1938 he married Katherine P. Hall. They had two sons, Deane G. and William.


Keller's forty year career teaching life drawing and traditional painting techniques to Yale art students was interrupted only by his service in World War II. Keller served as a Fine Arts officer attached to the Fifth Army in Italy from 1943 to 1946. His duties as a Fine Arts officer were twofold: to locate and safeguard art treasures, and to coordinate emergency restoration of damaged monuments, churches and museums. For example, he was often first on the scene at places like the Campo Santo, Pisa, where he directed efforts to preserve frescoes badly damaged by American artillery. Keller also supervised the return of famed artworks taken from the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, by German forces. For his efforts during the war he was awarded the United States Legion of Merit, the Member of the British Empire medal, and the Order of St. John the Lateran from the Vatican.


Keller's second career was that of a portrait painter. At Yale he was known as the "unofficial portraitist of the Yale faculty." At his death he had completed over 160 portrait commissions for the university, including faculty, corporation board members, and two presidents. Keller also painted a wide range of portraits for clients outside Yale; some of his famous subjects included Senator Robert Taft, Governor John Lodge, and Presidents William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover.


Keller returned to his position as a professor of painting and drawing at the Yale School of Arts in 1946. During the 1950s and 1960s Keller was a staunch supporter of traditional techniques in the face of the modern arts movements headed by Joseph Albers, chairman of the department of design at the Yale School of Art. Keller retired from teaching in 1970, but continued to paint portraits. Of his own work he said, "I'm not a modern painter at all. [My work] is naturalistic. Some would call it realistic, but it's not necessarily that. All painting is interpretation." Deane Keller died in Hamden, Connecticut, on April 12, 1992, at the age of 91.

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Taken on September 7, 2007