Allan Stone was for many years my best client, and more than that, he was unlike any collector I ever met. He was a unique individual with wide ranging tastes and enormous confidence in his ability to select what hit his nerve. He was not following trends, he was not listening to what’s in fashion, he followed his own discerning taste. He did not care what anyone else thought of his collection. Collecting was his most personal passion, and he created his collection just for himself.

Allan was perhaps one of the twentieth century’s best and in every case one of the most influential art dealers, yet he was always modest and friendly. He enjoyed every aspect of life and experiences. He created entire environments with his art collection, at his homes and his gallery.

No one else would buy like him. His inquisitiveness was such that he could buy a major Songye power figure at the same time as a cluster of Polynesian clubs. In his home in Purchase, New York, he always had a spot in mind where he could fit in his next new piece. He loved the art and intimate objects appealed to him just as much as important ones.

He meant so much to me as a friend, but he was also so important to me as a client. One time, I left San Francisco for New York to show him some pieces. Upon my arrival I called his office and learned that he was not available as he was going on a trip to San Francisco the next morning. I immediately left my New York hotel, flew back to San Francisco, and was sitting at my gallery desk when he came in. We made a deal and after he left, I flew back to New York to continue my business.

There is a fascinating connection between Allan and me which predates our actual first encounter by around twenty years: Allan and I developed our passion for African art because of the same African sculpture. In 1955, I walked by the Primus-Stuart Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. There was a Kongo nail power figure in the window which originally came from Ludwig Brettschneider in Munich. At the time, I did not know Africans made art. I was absolutely enchanted, and asked the price, which was 3,000 dollars. It could have been three million dollars as far as I was concerned, as I was in college, with little money. In any case, this single object started my long and enduring love for African Art as I began to collect in 1955. Dave Stuart would never tell me whom he had sold it to, but I always wondered. One day, Allan and I spent time together and I asked him how he got interested in African art. He said it was 1955 and he was walking down La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles when he saw a nail fetish at the Stuart Gallery…and bought it. We had both started with the same piece. He agreed with me that 3,000 dollars was a lot of money, at the time, but he had to have it. We had a connection, Allan and I.

James Willis

San Francisco, September 2013