In 1925, Walker had won the Prix de Rome to study at the American Academy in Rome where he lived for three years, in addition to traveling extensively through Europe.
He returned to the United States where his career flourished as an artist and teacher. But his life would take an about-face as World War II raged overseas.
Instead of creating art, his mission would be the salvation of art that symbolized for many the achievements of Western civilization.
Although drafted into the Army in his early 40s, Hancock’s talents would soon be discovered and catapult him to a higher rank. As a private, he learned about an opening in military intelligence for an American-born, Italian-speaking officer “and I seemed to have the qualifications for such an assignment,” wrote Hancock in his memoir “A Sculptor’s Fortune.”
Hancock, who also spoke French, was not only knowledgeable about European culture and history, he was immersed in it as an artist when he lived there. He also spoke a little German and Finnish.
In his memoir, Hancock related how he learned about an “American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas.”
“I vigorously tried to get myself transferred to a service that would be central to the military’s relationship to the commission’s program,” he wrote.
Soon after, Hancock would be an officer working at a desk at the Pentagon before he was sent to England to begin in earnest his work as a Monuments Man. He would become Capt. Hancock. His colleagues were archaeologists, curators, scholars, art historians and fellow artists.
When he arrived in London, he reported to Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, an architectural historian who was commanding officer of the division that would become known as “Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives.”