A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
MALCOLM McLEOD June 27 2006 found at the herald.co.uk
First director of the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow;
Born August 18, 1925;
Died June 15, 2006
Professor Frank Willett was widely respected as a pioneering scholar of African art and archaeology and as a leading figure in the world of museums. In Glasgow he was the first director of the Hunterian Museum and oversaw the completion and opening of the Hunterian Art Gallery and the superb adjoining reconstruction of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's house. His contributions to the study of West African culture were acknowledged in many ways, most recently in 2004 by the award of the Royal Anthropological Institute's important Amoury Talbot Prize.
Frank Willett was born in Bolton, Lancashire, in 1925 and educated at Bolton Municipal Secondary School and at University College, Oxford, where, after graduating, he took a diploma in anthropology. In that era most anthropology students were intended to take up posts in the colonial service or, at least, to work in the colonies.
The war, in which he studied Japanese while in the RAF, delayed Frank's direct contact with exotic societies and his first professional appointment was as keeper of the Department of Ethnology and General Archaeology at Manchester Museum. His growing reputation as an archaeologist led to visits to Nigeria, where he collected for the Manchester Museum, and then to his appointment as the honorary surveyor of antiquities for the Nigerian federal government between 1956 and 1957.
His combined curatorial and archaeological expertise
was then recognised by his appointment as Nigeria government archaeologist and
head of the Ife Museum in southern Nigeria. Ife was one of the earliest and most
important cities in West Africa and its archaeology and culture became the focus
of many of his studies and the basis of his most important publications.
As a teacher he was kind, patient, immensely
painstaking and inspired his students with the highest standards of scholarship.
Many of them now occupy senior positions in universities around the world. It
was at Northwestern that he published his pioneering work, Ife in the History of
West African Sculpture, based on his excavations and the study of Ife material
in public and private collections. One of the fascinations of Ife is the
presence there of realistic portrait heads cast in bronze, the earliest dating
from the twelfth century AD.
In 1976 Frank returned to Britain to become the first
director of the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow. He immediately
set about improving its displays, mounting a major exhibition on the history of
the university, and contributing to the teaching of the department of
Nor were these efforts restricted exclusively to the University of Glasgow. In pursuit of the interests of the cultural heritage sector more widely, he was appointed vice-chair of the Scottish Museums Council, a position he held from 1986-1989.
Despite the pressures of running a museum and art gallery/the Hunterian and fighting for resources, Frank continued to work on research projects and also helped to create major international exhibitions on Nigerian art. His achievements were recognised by the award of a CBE in 1985. In Scotland he was elected a FRSE in 1979, and served as curator of the Royal Society for five years from 1992. His major contributions to the society were recognised by the award of its bicentenary medal in 1997. In 2004 he produced a summation of his life's work on Ife by publishing a catalogue of all the known material, a gigantic project whose importance was recognised by the award of the Amoury Talbot Prize.
Frank was devoted to his family and ably supported by Connie, his wife of 56 years. He took delight in the lives of his four children and his grandchildren. His life was marked by his devotion to the Catholic faith and by many works of kindness and charity, most notably, perhaps, in his commitment to and support of the St Margaret of Scotland Hospice. Frank epitomised gentleness and humility, fuelled by his faith, and these combined to bring a healthy perspective to the passion he felt for his work and life.
read also Professor Frank Willet First Director of the Hunterian
Discover the African Art books I like or join me on facebook
African Antiques is the archive and not growing much anymore but still updated.
Visit African Art to join our free newsletter and read recent African Art News.
For the last news about Frank Willett you should join our African Art Club and become an insider of the African art market.
And if you are a collector of African Art, have a look at our exclusive African Art Collection for sale.
Tribal Arts of Africa
read also :
mail David Norden phone +32 3 227.35.40