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