WILLIAMSTOWN -- They didn’t talk much about their experience, but former Williams College professors Charles Parkhurst and Lane Faison Jr., are credited with helping recover vast caches of art looted by the Nazis.
They were part of the team that made up the Monuments Men, whose mission is the subject of a movie now showing in theaters nationwide.
Faison was an inspiring instructor, according to Dave Johnson, who graduated from Williams with a degree in art history in 1971. He said Faison was very good at communicating his passion for and fascination with art.
"Lane’s particular specialty was his eye -- his ability to discern and articulate subtle differences in different pieces," said Johnson, who now serves as associate dean of the college. "He taught us to base our analysis on what we saw, not necessarily what we knew."
Faison and Parkhurst were among 345 men and women of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section (MFAA), commonly referred to as the Monuments Men, according to an article written by Denise DiFulco that was published last fall in Williams Magazine. The outfit operated from 1943 through 1950, though not all at once.
They were tasked with tracing, locating, recovering and cataloguing thousands of pieces of valuable and historic works of art looted by Nazis and hidden away. The movie "Monuments Men," in theaters now, is based on this group of art historians the Allies employed in often risky adventures to reclaim Europe’s culture and history.
Johnson recalls that Faison never spoke about his experiences in the war until after 2000, when the stories became more widely known. Faison did a few lectures at the college on the topic before his death in 2006. Parkhurst passed away in 2008.
"He was a very modest kind of figure," Johnson said of Faison. "It was like he had an alternate life he liked, and he never talked about it."
Parkhurst, who graduated from Williams in 1929 with a degree in fine arts, was a research assistant at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1941 when he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He was transferred to the Monuments Men in Frankfurt after VE day. One of a team of 30, he helped locate and recover hundreds if not thousands of art works -- many of them considered priceless.
Faison, a 1929 graduate of Williams College, returned to join the faculty in 1936. He joined the Navy in 1942, was recruited into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which predated the CIA, and was assigned to investigate the Nazi officers who ordered and arranged for the looting of art and trace their steps to find out where the stolen art was hidden.
After the war, Parkhurst continued his career in art as a teacher and administrator. He returned to Williams after he retired and worked at the Williams College Museum of Art as deputy director of special projects, and co-director of the museum for a time. He ended his career as director of Smith College Museum of Art.
Faison returned to Williams right after the war and stuck with it for 40 years. He also directed the college art museum from 1948 to 1976.