S. Lane Faison Jr., 98
November 11, 2006

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — S. Lane Faison Jr., 98, died Saturday, Nov. 11, 2006, at his home at Sweetwood Retirement Community.

Mr. Faison, one of the nation's most influential teachers of art history, was affiliated with Williams College for nearly 80 years, graduating in 1926, then joining the faculty in 1936. During his 40 years as an instructor, he inspired a lifelong passion for art in many of his students. An article in The New York Times on the occasion of his 90th birthday, "An Art Lover Who Awakened a Generation," listed the some of the countless students he and colleagues Whitney S. Stoddard and William H. Pierson Jr. (oft referred to as the college's "Holy Trinity") influenced, including an astonishing number of whom went on to become directors and curators at major museums.

The so-called "Williams Art Mafia" included Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery; Thomas Krens, director of the Guggenheim Foundation; Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art; the late J. Kirk T. Varnedoe, MoMA's chief curator of painting and sculpture; Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; James Wood, former director of the Art Institute of Chicago; John R. Lane, director of the Dallas Museum of Art; and E. Roger Mandle, president of the Rhode Island School of Design.

"Lane Faison made us," Lane has been quoted as saying. These students and many others have said they arrived at Williams with no intent to study art but then had their interests and lives changed forever by Faison, Pierson and Stoddard.

Lowry told the college he came to Williams vaguely interested in becoming a doctor but vividly recalled his first art history class with Faison: "I remember the very first slide we saw, which was a picture from a 16th-century Persian manuscript. I knew in an instant that this was something I wanted to pursue. All of us, I think, came out of Williams with a way of looking and an interest in looking that was very powerful. For me, it was so powerful that I couldn't imagine living another kind of life."

Mr. Faison himself didn't decide on a career in art until a chance visit to Paris after high school graduation. His family was visiting Switzerland so his father could take advantage of the spas there for his arthritis, he told the Transcript last summer. A friend offered to show him France.

"We went to the Louvre not one day but three," he told the Transcript. Then they went to Chartres cathedral. "The windows were marvelous. It was a glorious day. I was never the same after that."

Mr. Faison taught at Williams until 1976, served as department chair from 1940 to 1969, and directed the Williams College Museum of Art from 1948 to 1976. He remained a member of the campus and of the art world, visiting museums and galleries and charming audiences with presentations until just a few months ago. Most recently, he was at the Williams reunion in June, the oldest alumni to attend.

"As much as anyone, Lane personified Williams," college President Morton Owen Schapiro said. "A curious student of many talents, a sharp intellectual, an inspired and inspiring teacher, an able administrator, an incisive writer, a person of natural warmth and wit, and a mentor whose legacy will forever spread far and wide through the countless students he turned on to art."

A storyteller of uncommon skill, Faison rarely appeared without a twinkle in his eye and impish grin on his lips, Schapiro said. "Lucky the student who walked into his class, the audience member who sat down at his lecture, the reader who picked up his essays, or the dinner guest placed next to him at table," Schapiro said. "All were in for a treat."

Faison's essays appeared in The New York Times and Saturday Review, and in the early 1950s he regularly wrote art and book reviews for The Nation. His books include "Manet" (1953), "Guide to the Art Museums of New England" (1958, greatly enlarged and republished in 1982 as "The Art Museums of New England"), "Art Tours and Detours in New York State" (1964), and "Handbook to the Williams College Museum of Art" (1978). In honor of what would have been his 99th birthday, Williams published recently an anthology of his Nation essays, titled "Expressing Abstraction: Writing on Art for The Nation."

Faison's sharp eye and knowledge of art was also put to practical use. In 1945, he was transferred as a Navy reservist to the U.S. Office of Strategic Services as a member of the Art Looting Investigation Unit. He interrogated Nazi art personnel in Austria and Munich and wrote the official report on the formation of Adolph Hitler's art collection. For this work, he received the French Legion d'Honneur (Chevalier) in 1947. In 1950-51, the U.S. State Department sent him to Munich to serve as director of the Central Collecting Point to supervise the return of art that had been plundered by Nazis.

He also would serve on various state panels, including the Massachusetts State Council on Arts and Humanities and a study of the state's cultural resources. He was president of the College Art Association of America, a trustee of Hancock Shaker Village, the Bennington (Vt.) Museum and the Art Advisory Committee of Mount Holyoke College.

S. Lane Faison Jr. was born Nov. 16, 1907, in Washington, D.C., to Samson Lane Faison Sr. and Eleanor Sowers Faison. His father was a career Army officer and his childhood was spent at various postings, including Panama, Honolulu, South Carolina, and Virginia, until his father retired in 1922 and the family moved to Governor's Island in New York City. He graduated from Williams in 1929. The college offered no art major at the time but he studied with the founder of the Williams art department, Karl Weston. As a student, Faison was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, belonged to the Philosophical Union and Cercle Francais, sang in the Choir and Glee Club, and played freshman tennis. He earned his master's degree at Harvard and master of fine arts from Princeton, and taught for several years at Yale before joining the Williams faculty, from which he retired in 1976 as Amos Lawrence professor of art, emeritus.

The quintessential liberal arts college professor, he not only taught students in class but attended, in tweed and tie, an endless number of their performances and athletic events. His alma mater bestowed on him every honor it had to give, including an honorary degree (1971); the Rogerson Cup for "outstanding alumni loyalty, service, and achievement," (1975), a Bicentennial Medal "for distinguished achievement in any field" (1996); and the Joseph's Coat, given to an alumnus who has graduated 50 or more years ago and "is held in high esteem by both the college and fellow alumni" (1999). In honor of their contributions to the teaching of art history at Williams and in the world, the college established in the 1990s an endowed professorship known as the Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Chair in Art History.

His wife, the former Virginia Gordon Wee, whom he married June 1, 1935, died Jan. 21, 1997.

He leaves four sons, Gordon Faison, George Faison, Christopher Faison and Samson Faison, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

FUNERAL NOTICE — A memorial service will be held in the college's Thompson Chapel on Dec. 16 at a time to be determined.

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