african masksRichard Faletti
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Richard J. Faletti: 1922 - 2006

Attorney with Winston & Strawn became fascinated with African masks, carvings and textiles while on a trip to Nigeria

1984.11.0002The Faletti Family Collection of West African Cultural Artifacts at the Spurlock Museum

"In a corner was this dignified, conservatively-clad lawyer-looking person flipping through African robes,"

Richard Faletti and his wifeLawyer, art collector

By Trevor Jensen Tribune staff reporter Published January 18, 2007
ttjensen Copyright © 2007, found at Chicago Tribune

Richard J. Faletti's appreciation of African art was sparked during a business trip to Nigeria as a lawyer with Winston & Strawn, and it led him to amass a collection of masks, carvings and textiles that he later donated to museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago.

Mr. Faletti, 84, died Monday, Dec. 25, at his home in Phoenix, Ariz., of brain cancer, said his daughter, Margaret Anderson. Until about six years ago, Mr. Faletti split his time between Phoenix and his longtime home in Clarendon Hills.

Mr. Faletti was for many years head of the corporate practice at Winston & Strawn in Chicago. In the late 1970s, he traveled to Nigeria on behalf of a company involved in an agricultural project.

While there, he visited a museum in the town of Jos and became fascinated by the artwork, his daughter said. On subsequent trips he spent hours doing research in museum libraries and buying pieces of art.

Previously his art purchases had centered on Impressionist paintings. Those works hung adjacent to African masks, textiles and pictures in his Clarendon Hills home, his daughter said.

Richard Townsend, chairman of the African and Amerindian art department at the Art Institute, met Mr. Faletti in the early 1980s in a downtown hotel room where an African art dealer was displaying his wares.

"In a corner was this dignified, conservatively-clad lawyer-looking person flipping through African robes," Townsend recalled. "He had already embarked on the idea of building a collection."

With scholarly zeal and the reasoned approach of a corporate attorney, Mr. Faletti became a respected collector and appraiser of African art. He was a member of the advisory committee of Townsend's department at the Art Institute and a trustee of museums, including the Heard Museum in Phoenix.

In the late 1990s, a collection of his work titled "A Sense of Wonder: African Art from the Faletti Family Collection" was a traveling exhibit at U.S. museums.

Mr. Faletti was born in Spring Valley, Ill. He flew numerous combat missions during World War II as a captain with the U.S. Army Air Forces.

He graduated from the University of Illinois and its law school before joining Winston & Strawn in 1955. Along with former Winston & Strawn partner Walter Mondale, he opened the firm's Hong Kong office in the early 1980s. From 1985 until his retirement in 1989, he was managing partner of the firm's Phoenix office.

A lifelong collector, Mr. Faletti started with stamps and baseball cards. During the 1970s, he and his son assembled a large collection of cone-topped beer cans, his daughter said. He sold his beer cans to help fund his initial African art purchases, she said.

In later years, his African art collection was distributed to his children and museums including the William R. and Clarice V. Spurlock Museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Art Institute received "the bulk and the best" of the collection,, Townsend said.

Mr. Faletti's wife, Barbara, died in 2000.

Besides his daughter, survivors include three other daughters, Martha Keilman, Joan Scottberg and Carol Wolfe; a son, Michael; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

A mass will be said at 11 a.m. Feb. 3, 2007 in Notre Dame Catholic Church, 64 Norfolk Ave., Clarendon Hills.


Copyright © 2007, found at Chicago Tribune

The Richard Faletti Family Collection

by Ryann Willis found at

Abstract Karikpo Mask, Ogoni, Nigeria
20th century. Wood. 41cm

The art of Africa enjoyed a period of great popularity on the international art market in the 1980s. Of the important collections that were compiled during that decade, many have become well known, and the collectors who formed them have often become important supporters of public museum collections, contributing time, objects and financial support to institutions that might otherwise have less active resources. Among these is Richard Faletti, whose energy for collecting and institutional involvement seems almost boundless.

The adrenaline rush of collecting African art began for Dick Faletti in the late 1970s in northern Nigeria. He had been visiting Nigeria frequently as an attorney representing a multi-national company negotiating an agricultural joint venture with a Nigerian investment company. During one of these trips, he took the opportunity to learn something about the people he was dealing with and their cultural history by paying a casual visit to the Jos Museum. That visit changed his life. He was captivated by what he saw there. Although he had already been exposed to African art to a limited degree, he had never seen anything as exciting as the Afo maternity figure in the museum's collection, which he later learned had a famous counterpart at the Horniman Museum in London. A further revelation was the museum's collection of Nok terracottas, which had been uncovered in nearby tin mines. The unique and original art forms that were the product of millennia of history and culture were irresistible.He felt driven to acquire.

 Despite his new-found enthusiasm, his first attempt at collecting was less than successful. He discovered that a genial merchant near his hotel in Jos had apparent access to tribal artifacts, including two "old" bronze masks and two small stone figures, which he purchased. In Lagos, later in the trip, he purchased two small wooden figures, which he later learned were ibeji. In his words, "One was crudely carved (at this stage I reasoned that badly carved work was really very primitive, and therefore collectible). The other, however, was in my judgment a little masterpiece. This carver knew about volumes and negative space. I still have this ibeji."

He stopped off in London en route back to Chicago, and hastened to the library of the Museum of Mankind to do some research. There he had the good fortune to find a portly gentleman sitting at a library table examining photos of ibeji. William Fagg, who was then working with Jeffrey Hammer on a definitive work on the twin figures, gently dismissed four of Dick's treasures as "being made for Europeans," but went on to attribute the two ibeji to specific villages and carving houses. The friendship that arose from that chance meeting lasted for years, and Dick expresses a debt of gratitude to Fagg, not only for providing early tutorial guidance, but also for occasionally alerting him to pieces of interest at the London auctions.

Dick soon found himself responding to the formal and expressive qualities of Yoruba sculpture. Conversations with Nigerian archaeologist Ekpo Eyo, then director of the National Museum in Lagos, allowed Dick to benefit from the director's knowledge and insights over the course of his frequent visits to the museum. Dick's early interest in Yoruba sculpture was strengthened by Robert Farris Thompson's work on "An Aesthetic of the Cool." 1 This approach gave him a sense that there was a thematic unity in the works he had accumulated, namely the "serenity" of the objects.

Female Memorial Head, Akan, Ghana
19th century. Terracotta. 24cm

Other events deepened his attachment to Nigeria. His frequent trips there enabled him to absorb a great deal of the culture and certainly strengthened his interest. He was fortunate to be in Nigeria when Prince Sijuwade was installed as the 48th Oni of Ife, a lineal descendant of the first mythical divine king of the sacred city where the Yoruba world began. The experience was unforgettable. In a related vein, he found that a seemingly quiet and unassuming member of the board of directors of one of his company's joint venture partners was the current Oba of Benin.

In the mid 1980s, Dick became a member of the Board of the Center for African Art in New York, which enabled him to become acquainted with Susan Vogel and Mary Nooter Roberts, then director and curator, respectively. He also got to know some of the scholars and museum curators who participated in producing the Center's exhibitions and accompanying catalogues. Among them were specialists in Yoruba art and culture Hank Drewal, Rowland Abiodun, and John Pemberton, III. Later, when business commitments called him to Phoenix, Dick developed friendships with Raymond Wielgus and Roy Sieber, both of whom he describes as exemplary when it comes to connoisseurship.

Stool with Famale Caryatid, Chokwe, Angola
Before 1905. Wood, brass tacks and beads. 28.5 cm

From each of these notable individuals, Dick derived a degree of knowledge and inspiration, and his eye for aesthetics developed rapidly. His collection, however, is very much his own expression. While some collectors never make a move without consulting a scholar or expert, for better or worse, Dick makes his own acquisition decisions, relying on the sculptural qualities of the object that call out to him. Although the patina of an object can be relevant, it is not decisive, and he has acquired many fine sculptures that lack the gloss that is so often sought. He also collects atypical pieces. He admits that his approach is a risky one, and that he has made mistakes, but his collection is not a carbon copy of any other. It reflects him. He notes, "As Jean Willy Mestach said in these pages a few issues ago, 'Tell me what you collect, tell me how you collect, and I will tell you who you are.' 2 Only the collector fully understands the collection's oddities of choice. Susan Stewart has also observed that a collection is an 'articulation of the collector's own identity.'" 3

The kinds of objects that shout out a collector's name and demand to be acquired change and evolve as the collector does. In Dick's case, objects that have the power to "disconcert" and provoke a quality of wonder have become ever more appealing. Abstract, Cubist and Expressionistic pieces (to use Western art historical terms) have also gained increasing prominence in the collection. The more traditional sacred arts of Africa have recently been joined in the Faletti collection by Christian sacred art objects, particularly those from the atelier of Yoruba carvers sponsored by Father Kevin Carroll from what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as processional crosses and ancient sacred icons from Ethiopia.

In the 1980s, Dick began to involve his children in his collecting by making gifts of pieces to them. They, in turn, permit the loan of these objects for museum exhibitions and educational purposes. His wife, Barbara, whom he humorously describes as having indulged his collecting disease without protest, serves as the registrar of the collection. Thus Dick prefers to associate the collection with his family rather than himself. Gifts from the Faletti Family Collection reside in the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Heard Museum, and the two museums at the University of Illinois, DickÕs alma mater.

Over the years, Dick has participated in a number of forums related to the arts of Africa. He continues to serve on the board of the Museum for African Art, and he adds dimension to cross-cultural approaches to indigenous arts as a trustee of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, which has a world-class collection of Southwest Native American art, as well as a small African collection. He also serves on the Advisory Committee on African and Amerindian Art for the Art Institute of Chicago, and served on a similar board for the World Heritage Museum (soon to become the Spurlock Museum of World Cultures) at the University of Illinois. His involvement with these organizations allows him interesting insights into their inner workings:

The Museum for African Art is in the process of redefining itself. No single entity has contributed more to African art scholarship than this museum over the last twelve years, through its innovative exhibitions and its well-researched, scholarly and definitive exhibition catalogues. Its location in SoHo has attracted countless visitors who would never have visited an uptown museum. As with many small museums, the MAA suffers from serious cutbacks in funding from the national endowments. The MAA is in the process of seeking support from the corporate sector and charitable foundations, as well as increasing its membership and generating interest in collecting African art. It is now competing for limited resources with an increasingly growing interest by some museums in African-American art to the exclusion of traditional African art.

Despite financially challenging times, he observes that the museum is continuing an active and stimulating exhibition schedule with African Faces, African Figures: The Arman Collection; Baule: African Art/Western Eyes; Treasures of the Tervuren Museum; and Signs and Symbols: The Art of the Upper Voltaic Peoples.

A portion of the Faletti family collection will be on display at the Phoenix Art Museum in December of 1997. Titled A Sense of Wonder: African Art from the Faletti Family Collection, the exhibition is guest-curated by Mary Nooter Roberts and Allen F. Roberts, who also authored the accompanying catalogue. The exhibition focuses on the sublime and fantastic in African art, as well as other concepts that resonate between African cultures and European and American traditions. The exhibition will tour to the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago in the spring of 1998 and to the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois in Autumn of 1998.

When asked to advise novice collectors, Dick's reply is straightforward and practical. Locate a library with good resources and frequent it. Subscribe to relevant journals. View as many public and private collections as possible. You may choose to collect broadly, or you may be fascinated by ceramics or metal or weapons or headdresses. Your motivation, however, must always be to please yourself. Follow your intuition and buy what sings to you. The objects you acquire should give you pleasure and fellowship.


1: African Arts, 1973, vol. 7:1. p. 40.
2: Tribal Arts, 1995, vol. II:4. p. 79.
3: Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993) p. 162.


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Charles Benenson
Arman African Art
Barnes foundation
Gary Schulze
Paolo Morigi
Owen Mort
Tomkins collection
Goldet auction
William Rubin
Guido Poppe African Weapons
Picasso back to Africa
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Felix Feneon
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Brill collection
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Collins Diboll
Richard Faletti
Lester Saffier
Genevieve McMillan
Marc Ginzberg
Horstmann Collection
Warren Robbins 

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read also : Start ] Frederick-Scott-Boston ] Charles Benenson ] Arman African Art ] Baselitz ] Barnes foundation ] Gary Schulze ] Paolo Morigi ] Bareiss ] Owen Mort ] Tomkins collection ] lavuun ] Goldet auction ] Tishman ] Metha-Montgomey ] William Rubin ] Bregger ] Guido Poppe African Weapons ] Picasso back to Africa ] Private collection ] Felix Feneon ] Jean-Pierre Hallet ] Leo Frobenius ] Olbrechts ] Frank Willett ] Kerchache ] Brill collection ] Vicente Huidobro ] Hans Witte ] Collins Diboll ] [ Richard Faletti ] Lester Saffier ] Genevieve McMillan ] Stanoff ] Marc Ginzberg ] Horstmann Collection ] Warren Robbins ]

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