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Nigerian sculptor with longtime WMU ties has died

Jan. 8, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University officials have learned world-renowned Nigerian sculptor Lamidi Fakeye died Christmas Day in his home country.

Fakeye, whose ties to the University date back nearly half a century, was named a "Living Treasure" by UNESCO and had his work, including items he completed for WMU, showcased by the Smithsonian Institution. He first visited WMU in 1963 and was most recently on the campus of what he called, "my American university," in October 2009.

A faculty member at Obafemi Awolowo University in his own nation, Fakeye was celebrated for his ability to blend traditional Yoruba carving traits with modern forms of art. Over the course of his career, his work was shown at approximately 50 colleges and universities in the United States, Brazil and British Commonwealth nations.

Fakeye's longtime affiliation with WMU began in Nigeria when the University undertook and eight-year grant project for the Agency for International Development in the early 1960s. He became friends with WMU faculty members Fred and Isabel Beeler who were seeking authentic African art to exhibit in Bigelow Hall. The University acquired several of his pieces, as did a number of faculty members who were working in Nigeria on the AID grant.

Kalamazoo philanthropist Irving S. Gilmore helped bring Fakeye to Kalamazoo in 1963, and he returned numerous times in the following decades--mounting more than a dozen exhibitions of his work and completing commissioned pieces. One of his major campus works was a carved door centered on medical themes that the late President Diether H. Haenicke arranged for the University to purchase for installation in the Sindecuse Health Center. That door was loaned to the Smithsonian in 1998 to serve as the centerpiece for the Museum of Natural History's 12-month "African Voices" exhibitions.

Fakeye teamed with WMU's Bruce Haight, professor of history, and David Curl, emeritus professor of education and professional development, to write his autobiography in 1996. Haight often hosted Fakeye in his own home and remained close to the artist.

"I count myself fortunate that recently Lamidi came to the U.S. once again and I was able to say to him, "Ekuise (well done)," as I watched him carve," Haight says. "He was a renowned and hard-working sculptor and an interpreter of the Yoruba to the world. My family and I counted him as a close friend."

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400