Profile - Williams College Museum of Art

Karl Weston, the museum’s founder and first director, established the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) in 1926 to provide Williams College students with the opportunity for firsthand observation of fine works of art, a privilege he maintained was essential to the study of art. For 22 years Weston taught art history and solicited gifts from alumni for the museum. In 1948 he was followed in both roles by his former student S. Lane Faison, Jr., whose 28-year tenure saw a significant expansion of the art department faculty and curriculum. In the 1970s the collection burgeoned. To complement the 19th-century European holdings of the neighboring Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, WCMA emphasized American art, modern and contemporary art, and the art of Asia and other non-Western civilizations.

In 1977, faced with inadequate exhibition, office and storage space, Director Franklin W. Robinson formed a Visiting Committee of distinguished art professionals, mostly Williams alumni, to advise on building and programming expansion. Charles Moore was hired as architect, and in 1981 a six-year building phase began under newly appointed Director Thomas Krens. The staff was increased, exhibition space doubled, facilities raised to professional standards, a vigorous schedule of changing exhibitions launched, and an education program for schoolchildren inaugurated. In addition, scholars were hired to start work on a catalogue raisonné of the works of Maurice and Charles Prendergast, the beginning of a long-standing relationship with the Prendergasts’ work and the Prendergast Foundation.

Expansion of the facilities and programming has gained the museum a national reputation as one of the finest college art museums in the country. In 1989 Linda Shearer, contemporary art curator from the Museum of Modern Art, became director, and the Prendergast catalogue raisonné was completed. Under her direction, the museum has increased the interdisciplinary and curricular use of its holdings, renewed its emphasis on the 12,000 objects in the permanent collection, and continued its commitment to contemporary art and the art of world cultures.

In 2001, on the occasion of its 75th anniversary, the museum commissioned Eyes, 2001 a permanent outdoor sculpture by renowned artist Louise Bourgeois. For the museum, the work symbolizes an ongoing dedication to the best of contemporary art and living artists while providing students and visitors a unique outdoor meeting place and central artery to the museum’s front entrance.



< back to Museum's profile