Sammy Olagbaju sharing the joy of art with a new generation
SAMMY OLUSEUN OLAGBAJU
  • 76 years old
  • Date of birth: Oct 15, 1939
  • Place of birth:
    ABEOKUTA, Nigeria
  • Date of passing: Sep 23, 2016
Let the memory of Uncle Sammy be with us forever

To live in the hearts of those who you love is not to die. Uncle SAMUEL OLAGBAJU, transited to glory, and will never die, because he was greatly loved by many artists.

Memorial Tributes
This tribute was added by stella Awoh on 21st October 2016

"Grandpa Sammy Olagbaju was a great collector and mentor; whose impact touched many. May his soul Rest In Peace. Amen"

This tribute was added by stella Awoh on 21st October 2016

"Grandpa Sammy Olagbaju was a great collector and mentor; whose impact touched many. May his soul Rest In Peace. Amen"

This tribute was added by ojo olaniyi on 21st October 2016

"Sammy Olagbaju was an important supporter of Nigerian art: In his capacity as the Chairman of the Visual Arts Association of Nigeria he played the role of a father figure ,  who continued to encourage all artists to be the best they could be; through patronage of their works and connmmission.  He was easily our greatest collector who also collected beyond the Nigerian shores. He will be greatly missed. May his Soul Rest in Peace. Amen"

This tribute was added by Olufemi Ifaturoti on 19th October 2016

"I love you grandpa. I will never forget the last trail of e-mails we exchanged even while you were on your hospital bed. Your words will spur me on. Please continue to guide me and direct my steps forever. I yearn to be with you again. Love, your first Grandson."

This tribute was added by Dozie Igweze on 17th October 2016

"I met Uncle Sammy years ago when I set up my galllery. He’d come in, pick up an artwork or two and say to me ‘I’ll send you a cheque soon.’
And in no time someone would show up with an envelope. There’d be a cheque in the envelope. But here’s the thing; there’d also be a handwritten note attached to the cheque saying something like. ‘Dear Dozie, The cheque for the painting is enclosed in the envelope. Thank you for your patience.’ Or the note might tell me how much he liked the artwork and thank me for letting him have it.
No one else thanked me for waiting a week to get a cheque (Except his son, Ladele).
It always struck me as incredibly thoughtful. He was the one paying me. He didn’t have to say thank you. He didn’t have to thank me for waiting a short while. Someone else might have thought I ought to be grateful I was getting a cheque at all. Yet he thanked me. Every single time, he’d write the note saying thank you. For waiting a short while, for sharing the artwork.
It seemed, on some level, like something from another time. But it wasn’t. It was timeless – a certain elegance that meant he had to care about my time and my feelings; that meant he had to treat everyone with consideration and kindness. In a time when abrasiveness and insensitivity had taken hold like a vengeful weed, it was an education in a different, more elegant way.
It went beyond elegance though. There was a humanness about him. An expansiveness of heart that meant he was always willing to share. I suspect most of the artists practising in Lagos would have met him at some point or the other. He’d probably have encouraged their art in any way he could. I suspect that having one of the biggest art collections in the country wouldn’t have been the thing that made him proud. It had to have been helping the growth of art, by encouraging every artist and art dealer that came his way; by encouraging as many art programmes as he could; by nurturing and growing ideas like VASON to help organise Nigerian visual arts.
It’s easy to see the edifice that is Nigerian art today – not quite finished but certainly looking the business. Uncle Sammy, I think, was a key part of the foundation. He bought the art when most people weren’t sure they should. He encouraged. He cajoled. He supported.
I liked him a lot. A whole lot. When I was a young art dealer. He’d lay his box of call cards on the table and go through them one-by-one, patiently looking for people he might introduce me to who would be interested in collecting art. When I struggled with organising a history of Nigerian art exhibition that required a lot of old artworks, he’d lend the artworks from his collection, as well as his time and advice.
He’d share these stories about his life and about collecting art; about the joy of dealing with a mercurial Ben Enwonwu, about walking into an art exhibition by the Oshogbo artists at the Marina in the early seventies and somehow having to be an MC there, about having to go to the countryside in England some weekends to visit an English artist he admired. He’d tell these stories in his charming, elegant way, with a smile, a twinkle in his eyes. Like a man who enjoyed life – who sucked life  in like a deep breath, but who also knew to exhale his warmth, compassion and love back to the world.
A couple of months ago I spoke with him. He’d just come back to Nigeria. He was getting better he said but couldn’t talk for too long at a time. Still he wanted to know what I was doing. I mentioned that I was having trouble getting a landlord to lease his property to myself and a partner for a project. He offered to help. He’d find someone who knew the man and sort it out. He sent a text shortly after to offer some advice about the project. He always wanted to help, to guide all the people he cared about – a whole tribe of us, I imagine – in his elegant way.
When I become involved in art I always thought that anyone who collected art had to simply look at the world differently. Not like a rat race or a grimy battle for survival; but with more compassion, more romance, more humanity. They just had to be nicer, better human beings if they were interested in collecting art. Something I was right. Sometimes, unfortunately, I was horribly wrong. But every time, I saw or spoke with Uncle Sammy, I understood why I still held on hopelessly to that notion. He was a prime example of that elegant, gracious being I imagined.
I think I might start to write Thank You notes now – as much as I can, just to remind myself about graciousness. I bet if I’d told him this, he’d smile and tease ‘Don’t be silly, Dozie, you’ll go broke soon enough if you spend all you time writing Thank You notes.’ Then he’d ask how I was doing and how he could help. Always. How he could help. With a smile; with infinite, remarkable grace. Always.
Goodbye, Uncle Sammy. And Thank you. Thank you for your notes, your time, your kindness, your lessons.    Thank you.
Dozie Igweze"

This tribute was added by Kunle Filani on 17th October 2016

"Adieu to a perfect gentleman and sincere art collector. I remember back in the late 80s and early 90s he bought our works without the attendant arrogance of  'Mr Rich' 'helping' artists. He kept tabs on most artists and monitored their individual progress.  He was an avid reader of art related matters and sophisticated enough to appreciate clear thoughts. Mr Sam Olagbaju in spite of God's enrichment never took a chieftancy title (no issues against such. .I hold one from Wasimi anyway) considering the craze with which Nigerians embrace titles. He is indeed an iconic art enthusiast with his interest in VASON etc. We artists appreciate this wonderful connoisseur and pray for the repose of his good soul."

This tribute was added by Nik Amarteifio on 16th October 2016

"To a visionary with a kind and generous heart. Rest in perfect peace.

Nik Amarteifio"

This tribute was added by Nurudeen Odebiyi on 11th October 2016

"Goodbye to a foremost art collector and lover of artists ...Sorely missed!"

This tribute was added by Ejiro Onobrakpeya on 8th October 2016

"Uncle Sammy was a man of great honour, he was also a mentor and friend to many, but in particular, he a was a deep lover of the arts.
We are consoled by the fact that the collection of the art he left behind, will tell numerous stories, about great moments in our shared experiences as a people, and values too. These stories will remain uplifting to many viewers  , through which he will continue to live, for a long time."

This tribute was added by Dele Olaopa on 6th October 2016

"Uncle Sammy was one of the greatest patrons of visual arts in Nigeria. He not only supported through cash but also invested a lot of time in encouraging many budding artists. May his Soul Rest In Peace. Amen."

This tribute was added by Sam Ovraiti on 4th October 2016

"WE LOST A RARE ART LOVER , COLLECTOR,SPONSOR , MOTIVATOR. SAMMY OLAGBAJU WILL BE REMEMBERED FOR A VERY VERY VERY LONG TIME, ESPECIALLY BY THE ARTISTS OF THE HARMATTAN WORKSHOP WHERE HE VISITED IN 2013."

This tribute was added by Mudiare Onobrakpeya on 3rd October 2016

"Dear Uncle Sammy,

You once read this quotation and poem to me
By Walter Savage Landor
“I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.
Nature I loved and, next to Nature, Art:
I warm'd both hands before the fire of life;..”

Which in many ways I thought captured your true essence

You were clearly an epitome of great learning and insights.
I will miss learning at the feet of a great master
Thank you so much for your life’s work which amplified our sense of self, dignity and culture.
Sleep well Uncle Sammy."

This tribute was added by Godfrey Williams-Okorodus on 3rd October 2016

"The Art community has lost one of its icons,Rest in peace ,from the first moment I met you your humility and willingness to help us artists and the arts was very evident,may your legacy always continue Amen"

This tribute was added by Okechukwu Uwaezuoke on 2nd October 2016

"Helpers are standing beside you as you continue your journey in our Lord's wonderful Creation. Our loving thoughts accompany you as your path leads you towards the much longed-for Abode of Peace. Amen."

This tribute was added by Bruce Onobrakpeya on 1st October 2016

"My condolence goes to the family of Sammy Olagbaju, and we pray the Almighty God, gives his family the fortitude to bear the loss of this great man, who meant so much to the arts community. May God also give members of his family, the capacity to live longer than he did and indeed soar to even greater heights of achievement than he did during his life time.
Sammy Olagbaju was an extremely civilized Yorubaman, who understood the value of the visual arts as an important instrument  that brought not only pride, joy and identity to her people, but one that showed demonstrable evidence of the greatness and heritage of our people.
He therefore was not just a pioneer collector of modern 20th century African art, but was unapologetic for his vast and certainly extensive collection of art pieces, cutting across various themes, which he acquired from various parts of Africa, including Ghana and Kenya. He was also very supportive of many artists including my self during several points in my career, over a period of nearly five decades as a collector.
Because the Yoruba culture showed itself at its highest point with the production of the Ife head which is universally considered to be a masterpiece, Sammy, may very well, have been a reincarnation of one of those great artists of the people of Ife, who produced this important art piece, that opened the entire world to the knowledge of the artistic greatness of the geographical entity that is described today as Nigeria. I say this because, Sammy as he was popularly known, had such natural love and passion for the beauty of the arts, especially the modern and contemporary Nigerian art.
May Sammy Olagbaju’s memory be evergreen in our hearts as he spends eternity in the bosom of the Lord. Amen."

This tribute was added by Babatunde Ogunlade on 30th September 2016

"REST IN PEACE ,UNCLE SAMMY ,WE MISS YOU."

This tribute was added by tayo olayode on 29th September 2016

"Baba. Words are not enough to say thank you for all you did for me. Chairperson at my wedding, financial support for my trips,shows and continuous patronage till death.sickness could not stop your love and passion for art and art patronage. I remember how you told me. While with breathing tube in your nostrils and oxygen gas beside. " please help me go to terra Kulture and see this works please, Omo ti mo ran o farabale. He just rushed over and couldn't see.". Removed the tube for a while, cleared his nostrils and we continued the conversation. That was professor dele Jegede show. If GOD is truly an artist. He will be interested in many of your collections. And you will definitely have alot to show him. Adios baba."


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This memorial is administered by:

Mudiare Onobrakpeya

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