The Prelude

The ÈRE Project was inspired several years ago, by the announcement of the discovery of a rare Olowe Olúmè̩yẹ bowl in a tribal arts magazine article by Susan Kloman and Catherine Elliott. ("Discovered: A Supremely Rare and Important Yoruba Bowl by Olowe of Ise" -Susan Kloman, Catherine Ruth Elliott, tribal arts 9 (2) no. 35, summer 2004, pages 120-123.)

 

Not to trivialize the significance of the find itself, it was the "sleuthing" approach to authenticating the bowl that Kloman and Elliot describe in the article that struck a chord in me.  I found myself thinking, "They got it right!"  By Western standards, this is exactly how the discovery of a new, important Picasso, Van Gough, Renoir or any other masterpiece of significant import, would have been approached. Except in African art. ...

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The Naissance

With the publication of Dr. Roslyn Walker's book, 'Olowe of Ise; A Yoruba Sculptor to Kings', Olowe's posthumous fame grew among collectors and dealers alike. In the course of his appraisal practice around the world, Craig indeed came across the occasional, rare masterpieces in private collections, and kept track of not just the collectors, but whenever possible, tried to trace the sources, which often meant an anonymous dealer.

 

A particular collector of note who had a growing passion for collecting African art was an oil company expatriate stationed in Nigeria for several years. This expatriate was besieged by local art dealers in Nigeria, and sought some guidance before he started investing in serious African art acquisitions. Upon viewing the images of some of the dealers' offerings, Craig determined a field trip to Nigeria was warranted, to meet with several of the expatriate's art dealers.

 

Working in concert, three serious dealers easily distinguished ...

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Taofiq Azeez, Sharafa Sunni and Marufu Olaleye; three of Craig's well connected consultants.

 

The Excursions

As the collection grew over the years, and with it, trusting relationships within a very suspicious and secretive environment, Craig concluded that a different direction would better compliment the collection. Instead of rehashing and republishing the same combined information that earlier scholars and pioneers in the field had produced, Craig decided a visual exploration of the environment that shaped these masters’ perceptions might be worth exploring. Art in this context is after all, a mostly visual medium. The hope is that this might offer another way to appreciate the distinguished works of these celebrated masters of their craft. Fostering a trusting relationship with the trio of dealers enabled Craig to propose the idea of field trips to the obscure and rural origins of the great Yoruba master carvers whose works are featured.

 

And that was how the idea of an art pilgrimage on the trail ...

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The spokesmen for the Olowe family, (middle ) Olowe’s youngest grandson, Olajide “Ologbon

Olowe. (“Ologbon” is Yoruba for “the intelligent one”). On the right is olowe’s oldest grandson,

Alhaji Fasasi Olowe. In the foreground is the Olowe family's Ogun shrine. Olowe's favorite 

carving mallet is drenched in libation.


 Olajide Olowe with the family’s famous

Ogun ritual drum. It is housed in Olowe’s

preserved private chamber, (now a shrine). 


 A comparison of close ups of a female veranda post by Olowe, Jide Olowe and

 Yeye. The striking similarities of the jaw line, nose, gap-toothed smile (and

 indeed the rest of the facial features of the two images) arguably suggest

 Olowe’s family could have been the genetic model for his larger carvings.


Hmmm?



 George Bandele Areogun’s house and the life

sized statue that validates his veneration in

the town’s history.  The Statue depicts the 

master carver holding one of his sculptures.


Pa Benjamin Oluyemi Akerele, a.k.a. “Agbẹgilere”, (meaning “he who carves sculptural

images from wood”),  fondly and proudly recalled his historic, if almost anonymous

contributions to  Ife bronze excavations. He worked on excavation sites around Ife

from the 1950’s. Agbẹgilere worked with all the early notable scholars that came to Ife;

Bernard Fagg, K.C. Murray & John Picton, to name a few.

The Research

The frequent references to Father Kevin Carroll compelled further research into the role of Father Carroll in the lives of the Ekiti artists. In summary, Father Kevin Carroll (1920 - 1993), was a Catholic Missionary, a member of the Society of African Missions. His keen interest in the arts and crafts of Africa can be traced back to his first posting to Ghana, (then known as the Gold Coast) in 1943, where in addition to teaching English, History and Religious Knowledge, he also encouraged students to develop their artistic skills. Father Carroll was later posted to western Nigeria, where his predecessor, Dr. Patrick Martin Kelly started what was later known as the Oye-Ekiti Scheme; the concept of encouraging indigenous African art talents and skills, but redirecting these skills to the benefit of Christianity.

 

Father Carroll blossomed into an anthropologist, linguist, ornithologist and photographer and ran the ...

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Father Kevin Carroll, anthropologist, linguist,

ornithologist and photographer, was a member

of the Society of African Missions (1920 - 1993). 


 Craig with Jeffrey Roolf (Exhibition Director) sifting through

 photos while researching the Father Kevin Carroll Archive.


 Stacy Newman searching through boxes of documents and hand written

notes from The Father Kevin Carroll Collection for pertinent material.


Visiting the first Olowe master work to be

displayed outside Africa in the British Museum

(1924). The carved door and lintel were "borrowed" 

from the Ogoga (king) of Ikere, Ekiti's palace. 


The Ogoga's palace where the British Museum doors once hung, as it stands today.


 Father Carroll's photos are priceless...