William H. Pierson Jr., 97, Art Historian, Dies





William H. Pierson Jr., who as a member of the “art mafia” at Williams College helped train a generation of prominent curators and museum officials, died on Dec. 3 in North Adams, Mass. He was 97 and lived in Williamstown, Mass.

The death was confirmed by his daughter Elizabeth Pierson-Rainey.

A painter and art historian by training, Mr. Pierson was recruited to Williams by S. Lane Faison in 1940. There, with Mr. Faison and Whitney Stoddard, he formed one third of the durable art-historical team joking referred to as the Holy Trinity. After creating a studio-art program at the college, Mr. Pierson began teaching the history of art and architecture, delivering his lectures in a sonorous baritone that reflected his training as an opera singer. At the end of every class he tore up his notes in a dramatic demonstration that he never gave the same lecture twice.

Mr. Pierson’s students included James N. Wood, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust; Thomas Krens, who stepped down this year as director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; and Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery in Washington.


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