Richard J. Faletti: 1922 - 2006
Attorney with Winston & Strawn became fascinated with African
masks, carvings and textiles while on a trip to Nigeria
"In a corner was this dignified,
conservatively-clad lawyer-looking person flipping through African
By Trevor Jensen Tribune staff reporter Published January 18,
ttjensen @tribune.com Copyright © 2007, found at Chicago
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
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
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
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
The Richard Faletti Family Collection
Ryann Willis found at tribalarts.com
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
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.
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."
This approach gave him a sense that there was a thematic unity in the works he
had accumulated, namely the "serenity" of the objects.
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.'
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.'"
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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