ForeverMissed
This memorial website was created in memory of our loved one, Samuel Edgerton. We will remember him forever.
Posted by Rachel Hooper on May 23, 2021
I had the pleasure of taking Professor Edgerton's grad seminar on Renaissance Art in 2006. He not only taught lessons on the Italian Renaissance that I still use in teaching my own survey classes today. He also modeled kindness, generosity, and boundless curiosity. He thanked each student in our seminar by name in the acknowledgements of his book and made sure everyone felt welcomed into a community of scholars.
Posted by Ramona Liberoff on May 20, 2021
I was fortunate enough to be a student and supervisee of Professor Edgerton. He was warm, witty and very kind. I remember visiting his home for dinner and his delight in his other hobby, "gentleman farming," as he pottered among his raspberries. He was a wonderful educator and a true gentleman and all my condolences to his family and friends for their loss.
Posted by Thomas McVarish on May 11, 2021
One time in the summer of 1983 Sam hired me and classmate Michael Floss to paint a side of the barn on his and Dottie's new farm. He instructed us on our work, looked in on our day's progress, and fed us salad and burgers flavored with mint from his garden. It's a wonderful memory, Sam in the sun smiling out on his plans for the place. The smile of a generous teacher and scholar.
Posted by Jeff Dalton on May 11, 2021
I was 8 or 9 the first time I encountered the name Samuel Y. Edgerton. He authored a painting article in the World Book Encyclopedia I poured over, my first exposure to this thing called art. At Williams, I was never really sure if Sam liked me, but I liked him. I have fuzzy but pleasant memories of going to Rome for the first time and following Sam around as he charged through streets he knew like the back of his hand. I have a picture in my mind still of Sam standing taller than most, wispy hair caught in the breeze, peering through those glasses into the distance from Piazza del Popolo, pointing a long arm and finger in the direction of the Via del Corso. “Go that way!” I can’t go to Rome without thinking of that first trip and Sam. Blessings to Sam, his family and those who knew him.
Posted by Christine I Oaklander on May 10, 2021
I LOVE the family photos! I have great fondness for Sam, he convinced me to attend Williams for the M.A. art history program, even though B.U. was my first choice. His informality, friendliness, and interest in my maverick background--I lacked an undergrad degree in art history, instead worked for a museum and a Madison Avenue art dealer before deciding to pursue art history academically. I came for my interview after a blizzard and it was brutally cold with the sun shining on the ice/snow blanketing the Clark. I vowed I could never go to someplace so remote--a marble temple in a farm field deep in snow? HAH! not I! After meeting Sam, who was dressed in jeans, work boots, and a plaid wool jacket, and chatting with him for a bit, my mind had totally changed. Then Williams gave me a big merit-based scholarship whereas B.U. and the University of Delaware gave me ZIP! showing me that Sam and Williams, were eager for me to attend. I never regretted my decision, as depressing as German class was. Sam on our winter session Italian trip was a gem, full of witticisms, enjoying the good food and wine, showing how someone brilliant could also be funny and warm. His Italian Renn course was a treat. What a life well lived!!!
Posted by Elizabeth Reede on May 10, 2021
I met Sam when I was applying to graduate programs in Art History after graduate school and a career in finance. At every other school and interview, the PhD/MA program director was fascinated and at the same time, baffled by my radical career shift. On a cold, snowy morning after a long drive from NYC, Sam greeted me with his memorable enthusiasm. I recall he told me that he loved meeting people who had experienced an 'epiphany such as mine (which had been prompted by an experience that helped me to reconsider and ultimately reset both my professional and personal 'life' goals). Although I was invited to enroll at the other schools to which I applied, Sam had convinced me that morning that I wanted to be at his Grad Program--and I never once looked back. Thank you, Sam, for your enthusiasm, your brilliance, and your support.

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Posted by Rachel Hooper on May 23, 2021
I had the pleasure of taking Professor Edgerton's grad seminar on Renaissance Art in 2006. He not only taught lessons on the Italian Renaissance that I still use in teaching my own survey classes today. He also modeled kindness, generosity, and boundless curiosity. He thanked each student in our seminar by name in the acknowledgements of his book and made sure everyone felt welcomed into a community of scholars.
Posted by Ramona Liberoff on May 20, 2021
I was fortunate enough to be a student and supervisee of Professor Edgerton. He was warm, witty and very kind. I remember visiting his home for dinner and his delight in his other hobby, "gentleman farming," as he pottered among his raspberries. He was a wonderful educator and a true gentleman and all my condolences to his family and friends for their loss.
Posted by Thomas McVarish on May 11, 2021
One time in the summer of 1983 Sam hired me and classmate Michael Floss to paint a side of the barn on his and Dottie's new farm. He instructed us on our work, looked in on our day's progress, and fed us salad and burgers flavored with mint from his garden. It's a wonderful memory, Sam in the sun smiling out on his plans for the place. The smile of a generous teacher and scholar.
his Life

Sam's Obituary

by Mark Haxthausen

Samuel Youngs Edgerton, Jr., 94, Amos Lawrence Professor, Emeritus, at Williams College, passed away on April 25 at his home in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

The appellation “Renaissance man” is now a cliché yet is hard to avoid in Sam Edgerton’s case. As a distinguished historian of the art of the Italian Renaissance his polymathic erudition was reflective of the rich intellectual culture of that epoch’s painters, architects, and thinkers. His art-historical publications dealt with—a partial list—astronomy, cartography and geography, color theory, mathematics, optics, theology, communal jurisprudence, and the fertile interrelations between art and science.

Sam took a long, indirect route to his chosen profession. Born in Cleveland, Ohio on September 30, 1926, he spent his early boyhood in Shaker Heights and moved with his family to Wynwood, Pennsylvania for his high school years. After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1950, he spent a year as a sales representative for a meatpacking company before being hired as an art teacher and wrestling coach at a private school in Pennsburg, PA—surely a rare combination and an early predictor of his versatility as a scholar. While teaching he pursued an M.F.A. degree in painting from Penn, awarded in 1956. In 1957-58 he spent a year in Lingen, Germany, teaching English on a Fulbright exchange program.

After returning to the United States Sam enrolled again at the University of Pennsylvania, now for graduate work in art history, earning his M.A. degree in 1960. His first article appeared the following year, on a topic off the well-trodden path of art-history-as-usual: “Heat and Style: Early Housewarming in Philadelphia,” a study of the technologies and aesthetics of stoves in the eighteenth century. Sam completed his Ph.D. in 1965 at the age of thirty-nine, one year after his appointment to the art history faculty of Boston University. In 1969, only four years later, he was promoted to full professor.

In 1980, after sixteen years at Boston University, including three as department chair, Sam was appointed director of the Graduate Program in the History of Art, a joint program of Williams College and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. Upon his arrival, he worked to integrate the program more closely with the college, strengthening its curriculum, and instituting an annual January study trip to Italy on which he guided the students with his infectious enthusiasm. One alumna spoke for many when she described him as “an important, loving, kind mentor, and such a witty and memorable character—full of good humor, bursting with fascinating ideas, always exuberant in his welcome.”

Summing up his scholarship, Sam wrote that “the single thread that unites the seemingly diverse subjects of my books is the desire to reveal how the history of art interacted with the ideologies and social institutions of these diverse cultures. There can never be, and probably never was, a neutral, completely apolitical art, created solely for aesthetic enjoyment without any other social motivation. A work of art is a tool for performing some distinct social function.”

            His first book, The Renaissance Rediscovery of Linear Perspective (1975), is an essential work on its subject, “an important contribution to the literature of both art history and the history of science,” in the words of one reviewer. Probably none of Sam’s books better exemplifies his interest in the social agency of images than his Pictures and Punishment: Art and Criminal Prosecution during the Florentine Renaissance (1985). Here he went outside the aesthetic canon of Renaissance artworks to explore the “symbiotic cooperation” between art, politics, and law in Italy from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. He argued that over time the revolutionary art of Renaissance Florence, through its gruesome, realistic depiction of torture and executions, had a mitigating effect on a brutal criminal justice system that was still moored in the Middle Ages. In 1991 Giotto’s Geometry: Art and Science on the Eve of the Scientific Revolution (1991) appeared, and was awarded the Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize by the American Historical Association for the best book by an American in the field of Italian history. Along with his earlier book on perspective it has been translated into German, and, in 2018, into Chinese. Of his last book, The Mirror, the Window, and the Telescope: How Renaissance Linear Perspective Changed our Vision of the Universe (2009), a reviewer wrote in the British Journal of the History of Science: “Wandering scholars rarely come back to the terrain of their early research; Edgerton’s return to Renaissance perspective, with all his added insight, is a rare treat.”

In his mid-sixties, as he was about to step down after thirteen years as director of the Graduate Program, Sam discovered a new horizon for his teaching and scholarship. As he liked to relate it, on a visit to Mexico to visit his daughter Perky’s family, who were on sabbatical in Oaxaca, he experienced a road-to-Damascus epiphany: he joked that he had heard the voice of Montezuma: “Sam, why are you ignoring me?” But this moment had a more profound significance. In a statement on his art-historical method Sam revealed the real reason behind his response to this richly layered culture: it was “this stubborn faith in the continuity of ancient customs that has so fascinated me about the past and present Amerindians of Mesoamerica. I perceive in these people the same mental-set that characterized Europe between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Renaissance.” Witnessing the celebrations of Holy Week, he wrote, was “like taking a trip in an H.G. Wells time-machine to watch a passion play in thirteenth-century Christian Europe.” With a newfound passion he enthusiastically steeped himself in an intensive study of Mayan culture and in the art and architecture of colonial Mexico. He now taught courses on Mayan art, producing for his students a 150-page textbook on the subject and publishing a series of articles. His interest in the syncretic connection between Meso-American religion and Christianity in the encounter between missionaries and native populations culminated in his book, Theaters of Conversion: Religious Architecture and Indian Artisans in Colonial Mexico, published in 2001.

During his career Sam won many grants and fellowships in support of his research. Among these were residencies at Harvard’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at the Villa I Tatti in Florence and two as a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.  He was also awarded fellowships by the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. He accepted invitations as a visiting scholar from Trinity College at Oxford University and Humboldt University in Berlin.

A few years after the move to Williamstown Sam and his wife Dorothy (“Dottie”) acquired a former poultry farm on the edge of town, which they christened “Villa Uova,” the name emblazoned on a sign readily visible from the highway. On this idyllic spot, Sam became a dedicated and successful gentleman farmer.

It is representative of Sam’s humanity that he left his mark not only as a teacher and scholar. He was a member of the NAACP and a civil rights activist. In 1963 he played a leading role in desegregating the public schools of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. In that same year, he took part in civil rights marches in Boston and Philadelphia and joined Martin Luther King's March on Washington. On its fiftieth anniversary he donated his unique collection of artifacts from that march to the Smithsonian Museum of African American Art and Culture, which had just opened on the National Mall in Washington.

Sam Edgerton is survived by his loving wife, Dorothy, his children, Perky and husband Brian Meunier, Sam III, and Mary and husband Christoph Winter, his grandchildren, Marina, Lela, Peter, Kevin, Chloe, Zach, and Phoebe, and his great grandchildren, Xavi, Nico and Gabriel.

Samuel Edgerton will be buried next to his son Peter Edgerton in the Williams College Cemetery. A memorial service TBA.

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