Lorraine Pearce, White House curator, with a visitor in the China room. Photo: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Lorraine Pearce (1934–2017)

Lorraine Pearce, a decorative arts scholar who became the first curator at the White House, died in Charlottesville, Virginia, on March 14 at the age of eighty-two, Richard Sandomir of the New York Times reports.

Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy asked Pearce to help her restore the White House’s historic rooms, which were given a modern look during a restoration under president Harry Truman. Pearce created the curator position and then began working to revert the rooms to the style they were decorated in after the 1817 reconstruction.

Born in the Bronx on April 14, 1934, Pearce studied at the City College of New York before traveling to Strasbourg, France, on a Fulbright scholarship. She earned her master’s degree in early American culture from the Winterthur Program at the University of Delaware. Founder of the Winterthur Museum Henry Francis du Pont recommended Pearce to the Kennedys while serving as chairman of the White House Fine Arts Committee.

During her tenure at the presidential mansion, Pearce catalogued the White House’s historic furniture, paintings, statues, and antiques, sorted through storage, and conducted extensive research on items that were acquired. Among Pearce’s discoveries were a mirror that belonged to George Washington and a chair from Abraham Lincoln’s bedroom.