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Ettlinger, T/4 Sgt. Harry L. | Faison, Lt. Cdr. S. Lane, Jr. | Farmer, Capt. Walter I.

Faison, Lt. Cdr. S. Lane, Jr.  

Lt. Commander, U.S. Navy, Office of Strategic Services (OSS), Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU), U.S. State Department Fine Arts & Monuments Advisor

Samson Lane Faison, Jr. graduated from Williams College, MA in 1929, and earned a Master’s degree from Harvard in 1930 and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Princeton in 1932. From 1932 to 1936 he was an assistant professor at Yale and in 1936 he joined the Williams College faculty as professor and department head.

In 1942, Faison enlisted in the Navy and served as a Naval Flight Recognition Instructor and Training Officer until April 1945 when he was asked to join the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Faison was assigned to the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) to investigate Nazi looting and joined the unit at Alt Aussee in the summer of 1945. He worked on a three-man team with Lieutenants James S. Plaut and Theodore Rousseau, Jr. to investigate such prominent Nazi operations as those of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), Hermann Göring’s art collection and Adolf Hitler’s Museum in Linz. Unlike the officers of the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section) who reported to the United States Army, ALIU officers reported directly to the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (Roberts Commission), headquartered in Washington, D.C. Faison’s mandate was to write the “official history, as far as we could put it together, of how Adolf Hitler’s art collection was formed.”[1] Faison’s reports became number 4 of the OSS ALIU Consolidated Interrogation reports, “Linz: Hitler’s Museum and Library,” December 1945, and the OSS ALIU Detailed Interrogation report on Herman Voss, September 1945.

In February 1946 he departed the Navy as Lieutenant Commander and returned to Williams College and became Director of the Williams College Museum of Art in 1948. In 1950, the State Department sent Faison back to Germany as Director of the Central Collecting Point in Munich to supervise the transfer of U.S. operations to the Germans.

After a long career at Williams College where he inspired the next generation of art historians and museum directors, Faison retired in 1976. He donated his papers, WWII OSS interrogation reports, photographs, and correspondence to the Archives of American Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and Williams College. For his efforts in finding and restituting looted artworks after the war, Faison received the French Legion d’Honneur (Chevalier). He died in 2006 at his home in Williamstown, MA.

Obituary from The Boston Globe
S. Lane Faison, 98, art scholar, Williams College professor

By Michael J. Bailey, Globe Staff, November 13, 2006

S. Lane Faison, one of America's leading art scholars and teachers of the 20th century, died Saturday at his home in Williamstown. He was 98.

The cause of death was not immediately known, school president Morton Owen Schapiro said yesterday.

Mr. Faison spent the early part of his career in the fields of Austria and Germany as World War II was ending, helping to dismantle the Nazi network of looted art. His legacy, however, evolved from what he would put together, not take apart.

At Williams College, Mr. Faison was the indelible force behind a department that established a unique place in art academia: incubator of curators and scholars. Most of them came to the small college in the Berkshires with little interest in art. They left to forge careers that would shape the art world in the United States.

Mr. Faison was "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," Schapiro said.

Within art circles, his former students became known as the "Williams Mafia." And almost to a person, they credited their transformation to the bow-tied, plaid-attired professor with a contagious passion for helping people probe the essences in works of art.

"There was something about those wonderful courses that Lane Faison and the others taught that just wouldn't let go of me," Earl A. Powell III told The New York Times in 2004. Powell entered Williams thinking he would try a career in medicine. Instead, he is the director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

For Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the transforming moment was an after-hours tour that the then-premed student had with Mr. Faison at the college's museum.

"Off we galloped. We spent hours there," he said at a celebration in 1997 of Mr. Faison's 90th birthday. "It was magical, the enthusiasm that Lane brought to looking. And it was then that I knew there could be nothing more noble or significant than this pursuit."

With his colleagues Whitney Stoddard and William Pierson, Mr. Faison knocked art off its pedestal. Objects were not to be admired from afar, but turned over, sideways, backwards, to determine whether their composition remained coherent. Instead of rote memorizations of eras, influences, names, and geography, students were encouraged to see, feel, sense, discuss, and then interpret pieces of art.

"They taught us from the object, rather than from slides," Arthur K. Wheelock, a curator at the National Gallery, said in 1992. "Faison had us look at a picture by Paul Klee, and then write a poem. Or he'd ask you to compare an original with its color reproduction."

In addition to leading America's most august art institutions, dozens of Mr. Faison's students became art scholars and teachers themselves.

"I always stressed two things," Mr. Faison said in 2004. "One has to do with the connection of art to history, with the fact that every work of art was done somewhere and some when, and that this is very important to understand. The other side has to do with the medium of art, which is quite different from the subject. What we're talking about is color and shape. You'd be surprised at the number of people who come to Williams, and I think this is generally true of American students, with absolutely no idea of what the word shape means or what you can do with it and why it's important.

"They have easily mastered the medium of language, but many of them know very little about the medium of art."

Born Samson Lane Faison Jr. in Washington, D.C., he was the son of a major general in World War I.

Mr. Faison's own transforming moment came at age 16, in one of the architectural wonders of the world, the Chartres cathedral near Paris. He knew nothing of art history, he later said, and had no formal tour of the 13th-century Gothic building. Instead, he had only a young man's ability to observe and power to perceive.

"I haven't been the same since," he told The New York Times three-quarters of a century later.

As an undergrad at Williams College, Mr. Faison found inspiration in the man he would eventually replace as chairman of the art department, Karl E. Weston, who influenced an earlier generation of art historians.

Mr. Faison received a master's degree from Harvard University in 1930 and a master of fine arts degree from Princeton University in 1932. Before joining the Williams faculty in 1936, he was an assistant professor of art at Yale University.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1942. As Allied forces closed in on Adolf Hitler in his bunker in 1945, they began to uncover caches of art masterpieces removed from nations invaded by Nazi special forces. Mr. Faison was one of a trio of art historians recruited by the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, to investigate and detail the looting.

Much of their work entailed determining how the art was procured (much of it was bought through collaborators; some was outright plundered), who the lower-level culprits were, and where the art was hidden.

Eventually, pieces were discovered in castles, train stations, and German museums; the largest trove was stashed away in the massive salt mines near Alt Aussee in Austria. There alone, by Mr. Faison's accounting, hundreds of pieces of sculpture, tapestries, and 6,755 paintings - 5,350 by old masters - were stored.

Each historian focused on a particular facet of the operation. Mr. Faison's assignment: Find the role of the fuhrer.

"Like a small-town boy who made good, Adolf Hitler wanted the home folks to bask in his success," he began his 87-page, confidential report to the OSS.

The currency of success, in this case, was art.

"He got the idea of building a series of museums in Linz, [Austria], the close city to his birthplace," Mr. Faison said in 1998. Hitler created an organization, the Sonderauftrag Linz, to make his dream a reality.

"He was going to make a great center of visual art, the Bayreuth of art," he said, referring to the German town linked to famous composer Richard Wagner.

In the conclusion of his report, Mr. Faison argued that the principals of the art network should be brought before the Nuremberg tribunal.

"Looting always accompanies war; but Nazi looting, and especially Nazi art looting, was different," he wrote. "It was officially planned and expertly carried out. Looted art gave tone to an otherwise bare New Order. In the program to enhance the cultural prestige of the Master Race, the Sonderauftrag Linz was the master organization."

The tribunal declined to prosecute those crimes.

In 1950, the State Department sent Mr. Faison back to Europe as director of the Central Collecting Point in Munich, where he oversaw efforts to repatriate millions of pieces of plundered artwork. While there, he expressed frustration at the hurdles - from bureaucratic entanglements to downright greed - that impeded the effort to return the art. These efforts continue today.

At Williams College, Mr. Faison was chairman of the art department from 1940 to 1968 and retired as a full-time professor in 1976. He also was director of the college's well-regarded museum from 1948 to 1976 and was credited with shifting its emphasis toward American modern art and the art of Asia. He wrote several books, including "The Art Museums of New England."

Mr. Faison's wife, Virginia Gordon Weed, died in 1997. He leaves four sons, Gordon, George, Christopher, and Samson; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, the obituary of S. Lane Faison in Monday's Boston Globe incorrectly identified Glenn Lowry. He is the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this obituary.

[1] S. Lane Faison Interview with Robert F. Brown, October 27 and December 14, 1981 for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


Copyrighted by Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art