James A. Bear, Jr. served as Curator of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation from 1955 to 1974 and Resident Director from 1971 to 1984.
A native of Roanoke, Virginia, Bear received his undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia's Arts and Sciences in 1943. During World War II, he served in the Marine Corps and was severely injured in the spring of 1945 in the battle of Iwo Jima. Following the war, Bear returned to the University for graduate studies in history and joined the staff at Alderman Library as an assistant curator of manuscripts. His studies were interrupted by the Korean War which he again served in the Marine Corps in the western Pacific. After his return, Bear received his M.A. from the University of Virginia in 1952. A short time later he went to Boston to seek a degree in library sciences.
In 1955, following the death of Marie Kimball, who served as Monticello's Curator since 1944, the Foundation's Board felt the continuation of her position was necessary. Effective the beginning of June 1955, Bear became Monticello's first full-time, resident Curator. In 1971, he was appointed Resident Director in addition to his duties as Curator, and in 1974 he was named solely as Resident Director. After nearly thirty years of service, Bear retired in 1984. Bear was then appointed Director Emeritus, a position he holds up to the present time.
During his tenure, Monticello's dome and roof were restored, the Foundation's Professorship and Fellowship programs were established at the University of Virginia; the annual essay contest for local schools was established; archaeological excavations in the garden and along Mulberry Row were undertaken; an education program for guides was established; the Shadwell property was purchased; Monticello was designated a National Historic Landmark; the Shuttle station and Director's residence were constructed; the Kitchen and Wine Cellars were first refurnished; and the restoration of the vegetable garden, roundabouts, vineyard, and fruit orchard were undertaken.
In addition, Bear established the locator files to track the location and provenance of Jefferson objects; acquired Jefferson and Jefferson-family related objects through purchase, loan, or gift; curated several exhibits; began a comprehensive study of Jefferson's memorandum books with Lucia Stanton; and wrote numerous publications and research reports including Monticello's first guide book and the annual Report of the Curator.