EN­DUR­ING ART

The Pro­cac­cini col­lec­tion is a tes­ta­ment to build­ing con­nec­tions with artists and pur­chas­ing with pas­sion.

American Art Collector - - Contents - By John O’Hern

Ni­cholas Pro­cac­cini re­calls his fa­ther be­ing very cre­ative, mak­ing beau­ti­ful pat­terns in the plas­ter ceil­ings of their ten­e­ment apart­ment. He was also a tal­ented pi­anist, play­ing with the Jimmy Smith Trio un­til he re­al­ized he couldn’t make a living as a mu­si­cian and turned to tool mak­ing.

Pro­cac­cini served in the Army in Viet­nam. He joined as a pri­vate and was sent to of­fi­cer school and served in the in­fantry. “It was the most sig­nif­i­cant ex­pe­ri­ence for me. It gave me the op­por­tu­nity to go to school and to de­velop a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity and dis­ci­pline,” he says. “One of the things I no­ticed on R&R in Aus­tralia was the pres­ence of U.S. in­dus­try. I wanted to be part of that.” He re­ceived his MBA in in­ter­na­tional fi­nance at Ge­orge Washington Uni­ver­sity and then joined Pfizer, the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany. He spent his ca­reer with Pfizer, serv­ing as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of its op­er­a­tions in South Amer­ica and in Pak­istan.

In Viet­nam, he re­calls be­ing “too busy fight­ing” to take in the beauty of its arts and crafts, but he did buy two brass lamps. “I had a sense of what I liked,” he says. “I al­ways liked art but couldn’t af­ford it un­til my ca­reer sit­u­a­tion im­proved.

“Early on in your ca­reer,” he ex­plains, “you fo­cus on your job and fam­ily. You need to feel com­fort­able with your life and fam­ily be­fore you start col­lect­ing. In the be­gin­ning we had ba­sic prints.”

In for­eign coun­tries, “The Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties are close knit. Artists love the com­mu­nity,” he says, “be­cause they buy art. Even in Pak­istan, al­though the art wasn’t at­trac­tive to me, I bought rugs and brass.”

Af­ter work­ing for a time with Pfizer in New York, he re­turned to Peru with his sec­ond wife, Susan. “We had noth­ing to build on and had to buy ev­ery­thing that we needed for our house­hold,” he says.

“When you’re work­ing in for­eign coun­tries, you’re al­ways in con­tact with peo­ple at the high­est level of the lo­cal com­mu­nity and gov­ern­ment. Once a year, the U.S. am­bas­sador to Peru would host Noche de Arte in the gar­dens of his res­i­dence,” he continues. “He in­vited artists to show and sell their art. It was al­ways a thrill to get to know the artists. We be­friended many of them and in­vited as many of them as we could to our home.

“One of the artists, Felipe Let­ter­sten, be­came a good, per­sonal friend. He had a boat that he took up and down the trib­u­taries of the Ama­zon cast­ing the In­di­ans from life with quick-dry­ing plas­ter. There was an exhibition of his pieces, Tribal Spir­its, that trav­eled around the world.”

Let­ter­sten (1957–2003) wanted to bring the at­ten­tion of the world to in­dige­nous peo­ple, cast them with their daily and cer­e­mo­nial re­galia and then made bronze and fiber­glass sculp­tures at his stu­dio in Lima. The cou­ple pur­chased a bronze, El Abrasso (The Embrace), from an­other se­ries, for their col­lec­tion.

“At Noche de Arte,” he ex­plains, “if you pur­chased more than $5,000 in art in one year you’d get early ad­mis­sion to the event the next year.”

The Pro­cac­ci­nis picked up on the am­bas­sador’s tra­di­tion when they were living in Prince­ton, New Jersey, af­ter he re­tired from Pfizer. They had seen paint­ings by Gre­gory Fink in a hotel. When they met the artist, Pro­cac­cini tried to de­scribe the piece he had seen and said it was “kind of globby.” They be­came friends with Fink and hosted an exhibition of his work in their home. A paint­ing of his in their col­lec­tion is now af­fec­tion­ately known as The Glob.

They hosted an­other exhibition for Wal­ter Gaud­nek, who called him­self the “rebel artist.” It caught the at­ten­tion of The New York Times. The collector said at the time, “I think one of the ad­van­tages of hav­ing an exhibition in a pri­vate home is that you get to see the art in its proper set­ting.”

Pro­cac­cini sub­scribes to the cat­a­logs from Christie’s Latin Amer­i­can art de­part­ment and tours all the gal­leries. “I’m not a wealthy guy. I try to find some­thing I can af­ford,” he con­fesses. He re­lates see­ing a paint­ing at an auc­tion that was one of the last lots. He waited while the au­di­ence thinned and he was able to

get it a good price.

On their last night in Peru they went into a gallery, and were cap­ti­vated by a paint­ing by Al­berto Dávila, which they bought de­spite the fact that all their be­long­ings had al­ready been packed and crated. Al­though they never pur­chased paint­ings for in­vest­ment, they were pleased to dis­cover years later that Dávila had be­come suc­cess­ful.

Susan passed away shortly af­ter the cou­ple moved to their new home in Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia. He continues to fre­quent the gal­leries in Sa­van­nah es­pe­cially Reynolds Square Fine Art Gallery, which car­ries the work of Irene Sainz Mayo and Joe Saf­fold. Mayo paints scenes of the Low­coun­try marshes as well as sub­jects in Sa­van­nah. Pro­cac­cini com­mis­sioned her to paint a vista of the marshes from a pho­to­graph he took. Ski­d­away Marsh Scene, 2017, now hangs above his bed. He has been talk­ing with Mayo about the pos­si­bil­ity of do­ing house ex­hi­bi­tions as he and Susan did in Prince­ton.

When Pro­cac­cini in­vites peo­ple to his home, “they al­ways ask about the art,” he says. “It’s just won­der­ful to go around the house to talk about the art and the sto­ries be­hind each piece. It’s amaz­ing how many peo­ple don’t have art in their homes. I don’t un­der­stand it. It adds to your home and your life.”

John O’Hern, who has re­tired af­ter 30 years in the mu­seum busi­ness, specif­i­cally as the Executive Di­rec­tor and Cu­ra­tor of the Arnot Art Mu­seum, Elmira, NY, is the orig­i­na­tor of the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed Re-pre­sent­ing Rep­re­sen­ta­tion ex­hi­bi­tions which pro­mote real­ism in its many guises. John was chair of the Artists Panel of the New York State Coun­cil on the Arts. He writes for gallery publi­ca­tions around the world, in­clud­ing reg­u­lar monthly fea­tures on Art Mar­ket In­sights and on Sculp­ture in Western Art Collector mag­a­zine.

3 The two wa­ter­col­ors are by E. Lopez. 4 Joe Saf­fold’s oil on linen Too For­mal?, 2009, hangs in the din­ing room. 5 Joe Saf­fold’s oil on linen Hull and Post, 2006, hangs next to the door.

1 In the hall­way is a water­color by Max Guere. Above the counter is Mar­i­lyn Fo­ley’s water­color Live Oak, 2016. On the right is her water­color The Mercer House, 2016. 2 Hang­ing above the fire­place is Cri­an­cas do Coral, 1992, oil on can­vas, by Harry...

10 On the left above he desk are two framed fab­rics from the Nazca cul­ture of Peru, circa 100 BCE to 800 CE. Next is an oil on can­vas Baile (Dance), 1994, by Harry El­sas (1925-1994). On the right is his oil on can­vas Mãe E Filha (Mother and...

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