DeLoris "Dolly" Fiterman had a renowned generosity, an eye for contemporary art and a knack for winning people over — from world-famous artists to the priests she once roomed with for almost a year.
Fiterman — a Minneapolis philanthropist, art dealer and collector — died Aug. 19. She backed a slew of Twin Cities nonprofits, helping underwrite the Walker Sculpture Garden, a Minnesota Opera design fund and other projects. Besides amassing a collection featuring some of contemporary art's premier names, Fiterman also nurtured emerging local artists. A glamorous fixture on arts organization boards and at art events, she was once described in a Star Tribune story as "what oil-field workers would call a gusher — a great, explosive, natural well of bubbling energy and impulsive enthusiasm."
"There was always a sense of drama and excitement, sometimes even chaos, in Dolly's world," said Minnesota Orchestra President and CEO Kevin Smith, a longtime friend. "You add all the warmth, caring and community support she provided, and she stands out as one of a kind."
Fiterman was 93. She is survived by her daughter, Kimberley Fiterman-Duepner, and two grandchildren. Services have been held.
Fiterman was born in tiny Bejou, in northwestern Minnesota. At Mahnomen High School, she was a cheerleader, drum majorette and Minnesota's first Wild Rice Queen. She graduated from a business college in St. Cloud and eventually studied theater, speech and broadcasting at the University of Minnesota. In her early 20s, she worked for an aviation company in Los Angeles, where she took flying lessons. She was a bookkeeper in Seattle, a model in New York City and a sales assistant at Dayton's in Minneapolis.
In the 1950s, she married Minneapolis financier Edward Fiterman. She took classes in painting and sculpture, and started buying art, adding works by Milton Avery, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist and others to a collection that topped 1,000 pieces, her daughter estimates.
"She knew a lot about art and was a serious collector," said Christopher Stevens, of the Walker.
But Fiterman-Duepner, an interior designer in New York, also recently heard from a local African-American artist who spoke about the support and exposure Fiterman offered young artists, including artists of color. Fiterman opened her first gallery in 1977 on the ninth floor of the downtown Plymouth Building. She later bought and renovated the Pillsbury Branch Library, which she reopened in 1991 as Dolly Fiterman Fine Arts.
A longtime volunteer, Fiterman also established herself as a major philanthropist. She contributed time and money to a long list of local institutions: Temple Israel, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Guthrie, the Children's Theatre, the University of Minnesota and more.
She donated numerous pieces from her collection to Minnesota institutions, including the University of Minnesota, the Walker, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and more. To the University of St. Thomas, she gave more than 100 works from her African art collection and a 2012 gift of about 250 works that art students cataloged and curated for an exhibit — an invaluable learning experience, said Mark Stansbury O'Donnell, who chaired the art history department.
The university gave her an honorary doctorate in 1997. It also hosted her in a dormitory for faculty priests for almost a year during a mold abatement project at her Lake Harriet home. The Rev. Dennis Dease, the university's president at the time, worried how the elderly priests would handle a vivacious, fashionable female roommate. But Fiterman hit it off with them: They carried her groceries, swapped stories about her in the cafeteria and "just fell in love with her," Dease said.
With a packed social calendar, Fiterman knew how to liven up a party.
"To be with Dolly was always an adventure," said Smith.
Mila Koumpilova 612-673-4781