Lorraine W. Pearce, a decorative arts historian who served as the first White House curator under then-first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and helped coordinate a restoration project at the executive mansion, died March 14 at a retirement home in Charlottesville, Virginia. She was 82.
The cause was complications from dementia, said her son, David Pearce.
Lorraine Pearce began working for the White House Historical Association in March 1961 and was the principal author of the first White House Guidebook, published in June 1962.
A decade earlier, the White House had been renovated in a modern style during the presidency of Harry S. Truman. When Kennedy became first lady in 1961, she determined that the interior should be restored to reflect an earlier, more traditional look.
She hired Pearce at the recommendation of Henry F. du Pont, chairman of the first lady’s Fine Arts Advisory Committee and the founder of the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library at the du Pont family estate in Delaware. Pearce had been a fellow at the Winterthur Museum and worked in its registrar’s office.
At the White House, Pearce combed through furnishings and antiques, cataloging various artifacts for the first time. She also consulted with the first lady about the authenticity and historical significance of various gifts from donors.
In what was described as “a surprise to Pearce herself,” she was removed from her job as curator after one year and was reassigned to write the first official guidebook about the White House and its decor. She was also involved in the development of Jacqueline Kennedy’s televised tour of the White House in February 1962, in which the first lady guided viewers through the renovated rooms, describing the paintings, furnishings and history.
RESIGNING AFTER 18 MONTHS
Pearce resigned from her White House position after 18 months, ostensibly to spend more time with her family. In a statement at the time, Jacqueline Kennedy said Pearce “has performed an immeasurable service … in giving so freely of her knowledge, time and enthusiasm in the early difficult days of establishing the restoration program.”
There was reportedly some friction between the two, however.
“The full story of Mrs. Pearce’s departure has never been written,” columnist Maxine Cheshire wrote in The Washington Post in 1969.
Lorraine Waxman was born in the Bronx on April 14, 1934. She graduated from the City College of New York and studied in Strasbourg, France, on a Fulbright scholarship before attending the University of Delaware while working at Winterthur.
After leaving the White House, Pearce began teaching art history to private groups of students. She also led seminars on tours of Europe. From 1982 to 1989, she operated Getty House II Antiques in Georgetown.