2009-03-12 13:24:50 UTC
CORPORATE ART CONSULTANT
He brought Inuit art in from the cold
Toronto collector and gallery owner saw the importance of
'the last primitive art available in the world'
Globe and Mail
March 12, 2009
Budd Feheley's career is like a kaleidoscope. Every time you
shake it, you see a different dimension and perspective, all
of them intricate and interconnected. He was a painter
manqué, an art dealer, an advertising executive and film
producer, a book packager, a corporate art consultant, a
primal force in Inuit and wildlife art, a patron, a mentor,
a private citizen who restored, at his own expense, one of
the oldest houses in Toronto, but above all, he was a
collector of art, books and furniture.
Short and pugnacious-looking, with a large head, a gruff
manner, a salty tongue and a taste for scotch, Mr. Feheley
was canny, curious and a voracious reader. He had a
discerning eye for quality, a sharp nose for a deal, a keen
sense of how to present a project to best effect, and a
well-camouflaged soft spot for artists, children and good
His passion for Inuit art was sparked in 1950 when he was
making an advertising call in Montreal and saw a line of
people outside the Canadian Handicraft Guild on Peel Street.
After joining the queue, he saw his first piece of Inuit
sculpture, part of the second shipment of pieces brought
south from the Arctic by James Houston (obituary April 25,
2005). He was entranced, later explaining his fascination by
saying, "it was the last primitive art available in the
world, and it was being produced just north of us."
Today, now that Inuit prints, sculpture and paintings seem
so ubiquitous, it is hard to imagine the impact of those
early shipments of simply carved animals on dealers,
collectors and ordinary people who knew what they liked. The
art - beautiful, elemental and mysterious - created a link
between the modern world and the frozen mythic land that
haunts and often terrifies the Canadian imagination.
Mr. Feheley gradually amassed his own collection, helped the
Inuit organize a co-op to develop and market their work,
went north on the first of several trips in 1961 to serve as
a founding member on the original Canadian Eskimo Art
Committee (later Council) and eventually opened his own art
gallery, Feheley Fine Arts, which is now owned and operated
by his youngest daughter Patricia Feheley and represents
Inuit artists internationally.
"He was one of the very strong individuals who loved our art
so much in the North and he did so much for the people
here," said Kenojuak Ashevak, an Inuit artist who was born
in an igloo in 1927 and grew up living on the land and
travelling between hunting camps in what is now Nunavik. One
of the most significant of contemporary Inuit artists, she
bridged the traditional nomadic way of life and the
post-contact Western culture that has infiltrated the Arctic
through television, the Internet and modern modes of travel
in the last 50 years. She met Mr. Feheely on his first trip
to the North in 1961 and remained a friend for the rest of
"He was a remarkable guy, quite close to the ground and
coarse in many ways," said David Silcox, president of
Sotheby's Canada, "and yet he had this incredible energy and
a very sophisticated eye. It was a wonderful combination of
somebody you would think of as being tough and from the
other side of the tracks, and at the same time having this
wonderful excitement over certain works of art."
Describing Mr. Feheley as a good poker player, Mr. Silcox
said, "He was a tough negotiator who was soft on art and
artists." He had the best collection of Henry Moore drawings
in private hands, according to no less an authority than Mr.
Moore himself. Mr. Feheley loved them so much that he would
take them down and put them in a closet from April to
November to protect them from the summer sun, Mr. Silcox
Terry Ryan, the first non-Inuit to be hired by the Inuit to
manage the West Baffin Eskimo Co-op in Cape Dorset, met Mr.
Feheley in 1961. "He was a whirling dirvish," said Mr. Ryan,
"who was a one-man catalyst" for Inuit art. "He will be
remembered in country, in the north, as this energetic
collector who used to come and go, and in the south as a
professional collector who treated Inuit art the same way as
any other art" in that he didn't see it as inferior to
"real" art, but on its own individual merits as "good, bad
or indifferent," said Mr. Ryan, who has recently retired
from Dorset Fine Arts, the Co-op's marketing office in
Vancouver artisan and art restorer Brian Dedora remembers
him this way: "I had two godfathers in Toronto, Av Isaacs
who allowed me to learn my trade [as a gilder and framer]
and Budd Feheley, who taught me about business.
Mr. Dedora listed a series of "unwritten rules" that Mr.
Feheley had imparted, including how to present himself, how
to invoice, to appreciate the quality (and worth) of his own
work, to meet people in the corporate world and handle
himself as an entrepreneur. "He gave me confidence. In many
ways, my business is successful because of what Budd taught
me," he said. Besides learning "finesse" from the man who
had taught himself how to navigate the commercial art world,
Mr. Dedora remembers "marvellous" adventures with his
mentor: "Going to the Toronto Club on a Friday for dinner
and then picking up Inuit pieces from his restorer and
delivering them around town, picking up cheques."
Melville Francis Feheley was born in the West End of Toronto
in 1917, the elder son of factory worker Francis Feheley and
his wife Louise (Greenwood). His younger brother, Allen,
found Melville a cumbersome moniker and dubbed him Budd, and
so he remained in both public and private life for most of
the next eight decades.
Budd studied art at Western Technical School under the
landscape painter L.A.C. Panton, took additional life
drawing classes at the Art Gallery of Ontario and painted
and shared studio space in the early 1940s with Walter
Yarwood, R. York Wilson, Jack Bush and Oscar Cahen. A
post-Group of Seven landscape artist, Mr. Feheley was pretty
good, especially at painting watercolour landscapes,
according to his daughter Pat, but "he wanted to be an art
collector more." Coming of age during the Depression, Mr.
Feheley was wary of embarking on a financially precarious
artist's life and so, as much as he loved making art, he
felt he had to go to the commercial side and "make a buck,"
if he was going to support himself and a family.
A sickly child, who suffered from frequent chest infections,
Mr. Feheley was declared 4F when he tried to enlist in the
Armed Forces when the Second World War was declared in 1939.
The following year he married Catherine (Kay) Young, a woman
he had known since they were in elementary school. They
raised four children. She died, at 58, of lung cancer in
As the war was winding down, he formed TDF, a commercial art
studio, with two businessmen named Hugh Dulmage and Russ
Taber. The company employed many visual artists to do
illustrations and photography for magazines, catalogues and
advertising campaigns and eventually morphed into what was
once the country's largest television and film production
studio in Canada.
For example, the province of Ontario commissioned TDF to
produce a film for its pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal. The
result was Christopher Chapman's groundbreaking 18-minute
documentary film, A Place to Stand, which pioneered the use
of several separate images moving simultaneously on the
projection screen - what is now called multidynamic image
technique. It won an Academy Award for Best Live Action
Short Subject in April, 1968.
TDF also hired many now-famous artists and photographers,
including Jack Bush, Arnaud Maggs, John de Visser and Mike
Marchenko, to work on commercials and other assignments,
thereby giving them a steady paycheque in the early lean
years of their careers. As well, the company sponsored an
annual cash award to buy an original work of contemporary
art through the Ontario Society of Artists.
Meanwhile, Mr. Feheley had co-founded the Park Gallery on
Avenue Road, which became an important venue for Painters
Eleven, a group of abstract painters that included Jack
Bush, William Ronald, Harold Town and Walter Yarwood.
The gallery was expropriated in the late 1950s by the
Toronto Transportation Commission to build the Bloor Subway,
but Mr. Feheley carried on as an extremely successful
private dealer, helping corporations such as Imperial Oil
and Toronto-Dominion Bank build up their art collections. He
was also amassing his own collections. Because he didn't
have that much money in the 1950s and 1960s he collected
drawings - Cézanne, van Gogh, Picasso, Henry Moore, David
Milne - rather than paintings, and he would sell one
collection to acquire another. But a few collections stayed,
according to his daughter Pat. He would lend but not sell
his Inuit art and antiquarian books.
Even as he was running his art consultancy, the television
production studio, and serving on the Eskimo Art Council, he
was also working as a book agent, or more accurately a book
packager - although that term had yet to be coined.
In October, 1956, Mr. Feheley saw an exhibition of wildlife
watercolours by a young Victoria artist named Fenwick
Lansdowne (obituary Aug. 2, 2008) at the Royal Ontario
Museum in Toronto. He was so inspired that the next time he
was on the West Coast, he went to visit Mr. Lansdowne, who
was only 19, and arranged to represent him on a five-year
contract. That was the beginning of a lifelong relationship.
Through Mr. Feheley's efforts, McClelland & Stewart
published Birds of the Northern Forest and the two volumes
of Birds of the Eastern Forest with paintings by Mr.
Lansdowne and an accompanying text by the late naturalist
John Livingston (Obituary Jan. 28, 2006) in the mid-1960s.
Mr. Feheley also represented Eric Arthur and Dudley Whitney
with M&S in the publishing of their monumental work, The
Barn: A Vanishing Landmark in North America, and George
Swinton for his essential book Sculpture of the Eskimo. He
eventually became a member of the board of M&S. But then,
about the time he was easing out of TDF Artists Ltd. in the
mid-1970s, he institutionalized his own efforts by forming
M.F. Feheley Publishers. The company published among other
books, Birds of the West Coast, in two volumes, with text
and drawings, preliminary sketches and paintings by Mr.
Lansdowne and organized a touring exhibit across the
As though he didn't have enough to occupy himself, Mr.
Feheley acquired Drumsnab, a house named after the novel, A
Legend of Montrose by Sir Walter Scott. On what is now
Castle Frank Drive, the house had been built on a site
overlooking the Don River in the 1840s by Francis Melville
Cayley. Drumsnab, which is reputed to be haunted, is the
oldest continuously inhabited house in Rosedale.
Mr. Feheley bought it for $50,000 in 1965. The house was a
mess, according to Pat and her mother was "hysterical" at
the amount of work and money it was going to take to make it
livable. Mr. Feheley's pal, architect and historian Eric
Arthur, author of Toronto: No Mean City, lent a hand during
the restoration, and the house, after an expenditure of
close to $200,000, was ready for occupancy on July 1, 1967.
"I didn't use a decorator," Mr. Feheley told City & Country
Home magazine in 1985, "because I thought we might as well
be ourselves. We had a lot of early Canadian furniture that
I had started collecting in 1946. We added some Georgian
English and mixed things. It took four or five years - the
rooms are so large."
After living in the house for the best part of 20 years, Mr.
Feheley sold Drumsnab in the mid-1980s, about two years
before he opened Feheley Fine Arts, an Inuit art gallery in
the Yorkville area of Toronto. Pat, who has a masters degree
in Museology, worked with him and took over the business
when her father retired in 1992, at the age of 75, and
eventually moved the gallery to nearby Hazelton Avenue.
About a year ago Mr. Feheley, who had married Joyce
(Lawrence) Pipes, a business colleague and family friend in
1984, moved to Victoria, partly to escape the eastern
winters and partly to be closer to old friends such as Mr.
Melville Francis Feheley was born in Toronto on June 23,
1917. He died early on March 6, 2009, in Victoria of
complications from metastasized prostate cancer. Mr.
Feheley, who was 81, is survived by his wife Joyce, four
children, eight grandchildren, three great- grandchildren
and his extended family. A memorial service is planned for
the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto on March 27.