John Pemberton III
1928 - 2016
Douglass Funeral Home
87 North Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA
PELHAM - John Pemberton III of Arnold Road, Pelham, died Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016.

Professor Pemberton was born Feb. 16, 1928, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was the son of the Rev. and Mrs. John Pemberton Jr.

Professor Pemberton received a bachelor's degree from Princeton University in 1948. He received a bachelor's in divinity degree in 1952 and a doctorate degree in 1958 from the Duke University.

He was an assistant professor of religion at Randolph-Macon Woman's College from 1954 to 1958. He was a professor of religion at Amherst College from 1958 to 1998. He was the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities from 1985 to 1998 and the Crosby Professor of Religion from 1975 to 1998.

His extensive research related to the art and rituals of the Yoruba of Nigeria began in 1969. He was an associate fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University Ibadan, Nigeria, from 1981 to 1982. He was a visiting research associate, Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, in 1986. During 14 research trips to Nigeria, his research continued in Ila Irangun, Nigeria.

Professor Pemberton served on the board of advisors at The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. He was consulting curator of African art at the Smith College Museum of Art from 2000 to 2015. He was chair of the Working Group in African Studies in the Humanities, Social Science Research Council/American Council of Learned Societies. He was on the Smithsonian/Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship Committee of African Art and on the council for International Exchange of Scholars' Advisory Committee in Religion.

Among his publications: Yoruba Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought co-authored with Rowland Abiodun and Henry Drewal; Yoruba Art and Aesthetics with Abiodun and Drewal, Museum Rietberg, Zurich; A Power Like That of the Gods: Sacred Kingship Among the Igbomina Yoruba co-authored with F.S. Afolayan; Insight and Artistry in African Divination, Smithsonian Institution Press: Cloth Only Wears to Shreds: Yoruba Textiles and Photographs from the Beier Collection co-authored with R. Abiodun; African Beaded Art: Power and Adornment, Smith College Museum of Art; Cross Currents: Art of the Southeastern Congo, Smith College Museum of Art; "Smith Collects African Art." Exhibition on the occasion of the opening of the Brown Fine Arts Center, Smith College Museum of Art.

Professor Pemberton lectured widely including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Cleveland Museum; the Dallas Museum; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Mount Holyoke College; Museum for African Art, New York; the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian; North Carolina Museum of Art; Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria; Rietberg Museum, Zurich; Smith College Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the New Orleans Museum; the Seattle Museum; the University of Iowa; University of Pennsylvania; University of Virginia; University of Washington; and Yale University.

He is survived by Jane, his beloved wife of 47 years; his sons John Pemberton IV (Marilyn) and Robert Barker (Karin); his daughters Nanci Church (Thomas), Susan Winslow (Daniel), Debra Reehoorn (Robert), and Lynn Barker (Mark); 12 grandchildren; and his sisters Barbara Smith and Jane Buckley.

He was a longtime member of Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst.

A memorial service to celebrate his life will be held Dec. 8, at 3 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church followed by a reception at Lewis-Sebring at Amherst College.

Memorial register at

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Published by Daily Hampshire Gazette on Dec. 3, 2016.
No memorial events are currently scheduled.
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2 Entries
Jack was a dearly beloved colleague to us at the Smith College Museum of Art. He single-handedly tripled our collection of African art, and brightened our days during all of our exhibition projects together. We miss him so much.
Kelly Holbert
December 8, 2016
Jack was a friend, colleague and customer (postal history) of mine for many years. I loved his frienship and intellect. We also fondly shared alumnus status (I am PU '59). I will miss him much.
Don Tocher
December 3, 2016
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