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Faison, S[amson] Lane, Jr.

Date born:  1907

Place Born:  Washington, DC

Date died:  2006

Place died:  Williamstown, MA

Medievalist; chair of the department of Art, Williams College 1940-1969; Nazi-art-crime investigator during World War II.  Faison was the son of Samson Lane Faison, Sr., a brigadier general in the United States Army, and Eleanor Sowers Faison (d. 1957). In 1923, at age 16, he visited Chartres cathedral, an event which he said transformed his life.  Faison attended Williams College, Williamstown, MA, studying under Karl E. Weston, the chair of the art history department.  After graduation in 1929, he continued for his Master's Degree at Harvard University in 1930 and an MFA from Princeton in 1932.  In 1932 Faison joined Yale as an associate professor of art.  He married Virginia Gordon Weed (d. 1997) in 1935, returning to Williams College in 1936.  He became head of the department of art in 1940, succeeding Weston. That year he hired William H. Pierson, Jr. to teach studio art and American art history. Faison served in the U. S. Naval Reserve, and after World War II, assisted in the "Art Looting Investigation Unit" (ALIU) of the Office of Strategic Services, with  J. S. Plaut (investigating the "Einsatzstab Rosenberg," or art stolen from Jews under the direction of Alfred Rosenberg) and Theodore Rousseau, Jr., between 1945-1946.  He worked along side another American colleague, John Phillips, who was documenting the Göring looted treasure.  Because much of the art was bought through collaborators or outright plundered, Phillips and Faison worked to determine how the art was procured, who the lower-level culprits were, and where the art was hidden. Among his reports was that interviewing Hermann Voss, the director of the Dresden and F├╝hrermuseum. Faison wrote the report on the stolen art for Hitler's Museum and Library in Linz, Austria.  Though he argued that the art looters be included in the Nuremburg trials, this was ignored.  He returned to Williams College in 1946 as a professor of art. Faison hired another medievalist, Whitney Stoddard and, together with Pierson, set about creating a school of art history at Williams based on direct experience with the object.  He assumed directorship of the art museum at Williams in 1948.  Faison returned to Germany in 1950 to be the Director of U. S. State Department Central Collecting Point [for art] in Munich, continuing through 1951. He was made a Chevalier of French Legion of Honor in 1952.   He received a Guggenheim fellowship for the 1960-1961 year.  In 1969 he stepped down as department chair.   In 1971 he was awarded a D.Litt. from Williams College.  In 1976 he was appointed emeritus professor and retired from the art museum.  His papers are housed at the National Gallery of Art Library, Washington, DC, and the Archives of American Art.  He died at his home in Williamstown at age 98. 

Faison led the group of three art history professors at Williams which became known coloquially as the "Holy Trinity" and later the "Williams art Mafia." Because of their efforts, the college became the launching pad in the 1960s and '70s for the careers of many major art museum directors and curators of the next generation. Ironically, Faison himself was little interested in museum work as a Harvard graduate student and himself avoided the famous museology/connoisseurship classes of Paul J. Sachs. Those who Faison's teaching directly inspired included Arthur K. Wheelock, a curator at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Earl A. Powell III, a director of the National Gallery; James Wood, director of the Art Institute of Chicago; Robert Lane, director of the San Francisco Museum of Art; and Glenn Lowry director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Faison's success was criticized in later years for inbreeding and sustaining the rarified world of art museumship: teaching a connoisseur-brand of art history to wealthy elite at a private, all-male school. The "Williams Mafia" as they were know, were not all from the school, but Lane, their mentor, had been a Williams graduate as well.

Home Country:  United States

Sources:  [transcript] Faison, S. Lane. Interviews with Art Historians, 1991-2002. Getty Research Institute, Malibu, CA; Faison, S. Lane, Jr. And Gladly Teach.  Williamstown, MA: Williams College Museum of Art, [1989] 1990; [obituary:] Bailey, Michael J. "S. Lane Faison, 98, Art Scholar, Williams College Professor." Boston Globe November 13, 2006, p. C7.

Bibliography:  Honoré Daumier: Third Class Railway Carriage in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  London: P. Lund, Humphries, 1946; A Guide to the Art Museums of New England.  New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958; "Barna and Bartolo di Fredi." Art Bulletin 14 no. 4 (1932): 285-315; "A Gothic Processional Cross in the Museo cristiano." Art Bulletin 17 (1935): 63-183; Manet.  New York, H. N. Abrams, 1953; Handbook of the Collection, Williams College Museum of Art. Williamstown, MA: The Williams College Museum of Art, 1979.

Subject's name: S. Lane Faison