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Never-Before-Seen WWII Photo Collection Curated by Arts Administration Major

In the fall of 2020, arts administration major Hannah Vincent, and her co-curator and art history major, Phoebe Walczak, assisted in the creation of The Knights Collection. This new collection is an online exhibition of photographs taken during WWII by American soldier Harry Knights. Hannah recently shared her experience with us.

*Content Warning: This story includes references to graphic events that may be upsetting for some readers.*

What made you choose the Arts Administration Program at Seton Hill? 

I chose the Arts Administration Program because it seemed one-of-a-kind. Many of the universities I looked into didn’t have a similar program. Combining art with business seemed like a fantastic way to get my hands on larger curatorial projects. The program gives me experience in both the administrative side and the curatorial side, so I’m prepared for whatever projects I may pursue! 

Where did the idea to create The Knights Collection come from?

The lovely minds of professors Jim Paharik and John Spurlock, archivist Bill Black, and Harry’s son, Jim Knights. They decided to create the exhibit after Jim Knights entrusted the photographs to the National Center for Holocaust Education on campus. Phoebe Walczak expertly digitized and archived the photographs. I was recommended to join the team to help curate the exhibit because of my background and major. Jim Knights was a wonderful source of information, as were two history scholars, Jared Krol and Sarah Johnson. They extensively researched Harry, his infantry, the path they took, and the Gardelegen Massacre. It was a largely collaborative effort!

"This project taught me a lot in terms of arts administration, collaboration, and everything that goes into an exhibit. But, it also taught me about the impact war can have on people and communities and how these documents and accounts can help us better understand the world today."

What is the significance of Harry Knights’ photos?

Not only are we able to catch a glimpse of the past in Harry’s photos, but we’re also able to examine and better understand the Gardelegen Massacre, which took place in Germany on April 13th, 1945. Slave laborers and prisoners were forced into a barn in the small town of Gardelegen, Germany, which was then set alight. Harry’s infantry had arrived the morning after and were responsible for burying the victims. This horrible event has not been extensively photographed and documented. So, Harry’s pictures are significant in helping us understand more about the tragedy and the aftermath.

Why was this project important to you?

This project is the first that I had a large role in. More importantly, preserving history and examining the rise of fascism is something that is significant for the entire world. This project taught me a lot in terms of arts administration, collaboration, and everything that goes into an exhibit. But, it also taught me about the impact war can have on people and communities and how these documents and accounts can help us better understand the world today.

How did the skills you learned through the Arts Administration Program help you when working on this project?

One of the most important skills I learned with the Arts Administration Program is creating promotional material. I worked at a gallery before, and I knew a good bit about hanging and curating. However, learning how to promote shows is equally important, and that’s something I learned with the program. On top of this, the program gave me a plethora of information on the history of art, which helped me contextualize the world pre-, during, and post-World War II. 

Is art curation something you would like to pursue after graduation?

Yes! I’d love to curate after graduation.

What are your plans after graduation?

I plan to get a master's in museum education, as that’s my biggest passion. Using materials like the Knights Collection as educational tools has such a profound impact, and I’d love to continue utilizing art, history and education in my future. My end goal is to work at a Smithsonian Institution and help create educational materials for folks of all ages.  

View The Knights Collection (Warning: The website contains graphic content that may be upsetting to viewers.)