Biographical / Historical
Samson Lane Faison Jr. (1907-2006) was an art history professor at Williams College and director of the Williams College Museum of Art, Massachusetts. During World War II, Faison served in the Art Looting Investigation Unit of the Office of Strategic Services, an intelligence unit related to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Division of the U.S. Army.
Samson Lane Faison Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. on November 16, 1907 to Samson Lane Faison Sr., a brigadier general in the United States Army, and Eleanor Sowers Faison. Faison graduated from Williams College in 1929, completed his M.A. at Harvard University in 1930, and a M.F.A. from Princeton in 1932. Shortly thereafter, he began teaching at Yale as an associate professor of art. In 1935, Faison married Virginia Gordon Weed (d. 1997) and they had four sons: Gordon, George, Christopher and Samson. Faison joined the Williams College faculty in 1936 and became head of the art department in 1940.
During World War II, Faison initially served as an instructor in U.S. Naval Air Force. From 1945-1946, however, Faison was a member of the Office of Strategic Services' Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) responsible for investigating and interrogating Nazis and art dealers who were involved in the systematic looting of fine arts and antiquities across Europe. The ALIU investigated Karl Haberstock, Hitler's primary dealer and Hermann Voss, director of Hitler's Führermuseum in Linz, Austria where Hitler planned to house and display plundered art. Faison was the primary author of the report on the Führermuseum and also interrogated Göring's curator Walter Andreas Hofer. The ALIU issued twelve Detailed Interrogation Reports on Nazi looting activities which were used at the Nuremburg Trials.
During the recovery efforts, the U.S. government decided to ship 202 paintings that had been stolen by the Nazis from several Berlin museums in Germany (notably the Kaiser Friedrich Museum now known as the Bode Museum) to the U.S. for safekeeping at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The government argued that the storage conditions in Germany were poor. Twenty-five of the Monuments Men signed a petition, known as the Wiesbaden Manifesto, against moving the paintings out of Germany. The Berlin Paintings were transported to the U.S. anyway and went on display at the National Gallery of Art before being put in storage. Faison was one of ninety-five American art historians who signed a second resolution in protest, demanding the immediate return of the paintings. The artwork, however, was not returned until 1948.
After the war, Faison resumed his professorship and his position as art department chair at Williams College and became director of the Williams College Museum of Art in 1948. In 1950, Faison returned to Germany as the last Director of the Munich Central Collecting Point, one of several recovered artwork repositories in Europe established by the U.S. State Department for inventory, research, and repatriation. Faison's orders were to close down the Munich Collecting Point, which took nine months.
Faison continued to teach at Williams until his retirement. Faison and two of his colleagues, William H. Pierson Jr. and Whitney S. Stoddard, were the three art history professors at Williams College nicknamed the "Holy Trinity," due to their reputation for launching the careers of their students to stratospheric heights. Several of their students went on to become directors at prestigious museums such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Art Institute of Chicago. The New York Times created the moniker "Williams Mafia" in reference to the Williams alumni that were taught by the "Holy Trinity" and whom went on to become prominent members of the art world.
Faison was made a Chevalier of French Legion of Honor in 1952. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for 1960-1961 and Williams college awarded him a Doctor of Letters in 1971. He stepped down from his position as art department chair in 1969, and retired from his position as the director of the Williams College Museum of Art in 1976. Faison died in Williamstown, MA in 2006 at the age of 98.