I met Tom Wheelock in 1985, while I was the assistant to the director of what was known then as Pace Primitive. Tom, a frequent visitor to the gallery, cut quite an impressive figure; he was tall, fit and always impeccably dressed with a double breasted dark blue jacket and fedora to match. In those days, aside from being a professional gentleman, Tom ran an art appraising and consulting business. Between his buying and selling, a prodigious amount of material from Burkina was always passing through his hands.
Tom started collecting in the early 1970s after crossing the Sahara, in a Land Rover with a girlfriend, and accidentally ending up in Ouagadougu. There and then his life-long passion for the art of Burkina began which eventually culminated with his assembly of the most important collection in the world of Burkinabe’ art.
I remember with particular pleasure the visits to his Upper East side office stuffed floor to ceiling with masks, figures, locks, staffs from Burkina Faso, and an array of eclectic art from all over the world.
While discussing the various objects and their merits, he would weave in stories and anecdotes from his numerous trips to Burkina Faso. Burkina remained his focus as he never collected art from any other African country.
Built according to Tom’s aesthetic principles, the collection encompasses the entire range of Burkinabe’ artistic expression: jewelry, dolls, flutes, figures, staffs, tall altar posts and the most varied and diverse masks. It is by no means an encyclopedic history of Burkinabe’ art but reflects the singular taste and eye of a collector.
We are happy to present a selection of carefully chosen masks and diverse objects from this very special and unique collection.