Florida Folklife Program
Folk Heritage Awards Recipient: O. L. Samuels
O. L. Samuels
O. L. Samuels - 2013 Florida Folk Heritage Award
Visionary artist and sculptor Reverend O. L. Samuels was born in Georgia in 1931. On his life journey, he has discovered many artistic talents, including the ability to make anything out of wood. As a child, he made his own toys out of wood and other found objects. He left home at the age of eight and worked numerous odd jobs, including a stint as a prizefighter in New York City, before returning to the South in 1962 to work as a tree surgeon. An accident in 1982 left him badly injured and despondent. While recovering he found purpose and solace in woodwork, much like his grandmother, a freed slave, who told him she carved on wood to ease depression. Lacking formal training, he began carving animals, biblical figures, and mythical creatures out of wood, which he ornamented with metal, fabric, and found objects. Rev. Samuels draws from his experiences and highly personal vision of the world to provide each piece with a unique story. His work has been featured worldwide and prominently in the United States, including the White House, the Smithsonian American Museum of Art, and the Arkansas Museum of Art, as well as many other museums and art galleries. Rev. Samuels has also donated a piece to the Florida Department of State Art Collection, a self-portrait titled “O. L. Trapped in Time.” He remains one of the most recognized folk artists in the southeastern United States.