Bill had a long-standing and deeply personal connection to Liberia, which began with service in the Peace Corps in the late 1960s and continued throughout his life. He taught at Cuttington University, where he also founded the Africana Museum. Bill returned to Liberia to pursue research between 1974 and 1976, which was supported by a Fulbright-Hays fellowship. Upon his return to the U.S., he served as a curator, first at the Museum of the Society of African Missions, in Tenafly, N.J., and then at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco from 1979-84. Upon being awarded another Fulbright fellowship in 1984, Bill once again returned to Liberia. In conjunction with the West African Museums Programme, he served as Director of the National Museum of Liberia, in Monrovia, where he oversaw the renovation of the museum's nineteenth-century building and the expansion and re-installation of its collections.
During his tenure at Brooklyn from 1987 to 2007, Bill acquired over 1600 objects for the museum, a prolific record of considered connoisseurship that is unmatched in the history of Brooklyn's African and Pacific collections. He also organized at least eight major exhibitions at Brooklyn, including "African Art and Leadership," "Image and Reflection: Adolph Gottlieb's Pictographs and African Sculpture," "In Pursuit of the Spiritual: Oceanic Art Given by Mr. and Mrs. John A. Friede and Mrs. Melville W. Hall," "African Furniture," and "Masterworks of African Art from the Collection of Beatrice Riese," as well as four separate re-installations of the African and Pacific Islands collections. He authored African Art: A Century at the Brooklyn Museum (Prestel, 2009), the first catalogue on the museum's collection. Most recently, Bill served as a consultant to the Saint Louis Art Museum.
Bill was one of the leading experts on the arts of Liberia and Sierra Leone. He wrote extensively on the arts of masquerades and age grades in this region, and on issues in museology, collecting, and interpretation. Bill also shared his skills in collections development broadly, conducting frequent seminars on museum management and curatorial training in Europe, Africa, and South America through grants from UNESCO and the U.S. Department of State. He also taught at numerous universities in Africa and the U.S.
I know that Bill's considerable generosity and openness of spirit has touched many in our field over the years. He has been a gracious friend and mentor to a great number, myself included. He was an invaluable resource, whose guidance and intellect was treasured. That strength, warmth, and wit remained unbowed, until the end.
A memorial service will be announced in the coming months. In the meantime, I share my deepest condolences with his family and his many friends around the world.
Kevin D. Dumouchelle
Arts of Africa and the Pacific Islands