Ulli Beier, teacher, patron of the arts, passes away far from “home” – Tola Adenle

On more than one level, the death of Ulli Beier in Australia today far away from what Osogbo people – and he to a great extent – consider his real home at Osogbo in South West Nigeia, is also a personal loss of sorts to me.  Even though I merely saw him without formally meeting him throughout his many years in Nigeria, it was a review of a book by Professor Roland Abiodun of Amherst, et al. a little over two years ago that got me introduced – from a distance to him.  It was a book that contains many of the beautiful pictures of Yoruba handwoven fabrics of the past made into different male and female wears. Abiodun linked us and after he received my mail in which I introduced myself as the wife of an Ataoja Adenle son, including facts about my spouse, he wrote a very touching letter.  He apologized for taking a while before writing because he wasn’t that good at emails and has to wait for his son before he could write!

We promised to visit him Down Under, hoping he would hold on for a while but at 88, Beier, as Osogbo people – younger or older than him fondly referred to  him – has lived a good life that contributed immensely to the status of Osogbo as a cultural center that draws people from all over the world, especially the U.S.A. not only at the annual Osun Festival but as year-round tourists.

Beier arrived Osogbo via the University of Ibadan in the early 50s with his wife, Late Suzanne Wenger a.k.a. Adunni Olorisa who passed away a couple of years ago but it was with his second wife, his widow, Georgina Beier, that he started the world-famous Osogbo Arts that produced the likes of dramatists, Late Duro Ladipo and famous artists like Jimo Buraimo, Twins Seven-Seven, et. al.  Even though he travelled far afield in Yorubaland for research, Osogbo was his home until he moved to Australia.

He visited Osogbo four years ago to participate in arts-related projects.

May his soul rest in peace, and may God grant Georgina and his family the strength to bear the loss, and may his thousands of acquaintances in Germany, Nigeria and Austrialia always remember a great man of culture who left the world a better place.

Below is a picture sent me by Professor Beier after reading a book, OBA S.A. ADENLE, Portrait of a Yoruba Oba written by Dr. Depo Adenle [my spouse] and myself, October 2006.

Ulli Beier & Ataoja Adenle
Late Ulli Beier and Late Ataoja of Osogbo Oba S.A. Adenle I, admiring an aluminum panel by Asiru Olatunde, donated to His Highness by Professor Beier in the early l960’s at Ataoja’s Palace, Osogbo.

Below is the first of the three-part essay that got me finally formally introduced to him.

Cloth only wears to shreds:  THE NATION, February 2009


Yewande, dear,

Here again is one especially for your friends in Nigeria.

I’m delighted about your growing interest in collecting African art.  Since I cannot loan you the catalog of the exhibition of Yoruba Textiles organized by the Mead Art Museum, I’m doing the next best thing by whetting your appetite with a brief review, knowing it should make you take a short trip from your Boston base to Amherst where you can actually see the exhibition of Cloth only wears to shreds. It is the result of a collaborative effort by Professors Rowland Abiodun, Ulli Beier and John Pemberton III. As I informed you during our conversation, I got the copy through Professor Abiodun, one of the pioneers at OAU’s Institute of African Studies at Ife during late Professor Oluwasanmi’s dynamic era.  Beier, too, had a stint at the Institute in the 60s.  Abiodun is now the John C. Newton Professor of History of Art and Black Studies at Amherst College; his Chair is funded from the estate of Howard A. Newton who graduated from Amherst in 1906. You may wish to look into the possibility of getting a copy to buy from the Museum.

Is it not amazing, dear, that many of our old aso oke designs are lying or hanging in pristine conditions at a college Museum – albeit a top-drawer university in far-away America founded in 1821!  More amazing, perhaps, is the fact that The Mead, opened in 1949, was established with funds bequeathed by Architect William Rutherford Mead, Amherst College Class of 1867!  While working on this essay, I discovered that the Mellon Foundation recently donated half a million dollars to The Mead to “enable [it] create the full-time position of coordinator of college programs, whose primary mandate will be to expand the Mead’s efforts to engage faculty in teaching with original works of art…”, a sort of cross-philanthropy one may say, like Warren Buffet and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. On its own, the Mellon Foundation, a contribution by one of those great American philanthropists of the 19th Century as you know, makes grants in many areas, including higher education, research in IT, conservation and the Arts.

Imagine if all the rich Nigerians – forget how the wealth was acquired – would give to higher education, set up museums, etcetera.  Would the Rowland Abioduns, Funmi Olopades, Soyinkas, Kole Omotosos – AND Yewandes (!) leave the shores of this country since most are involuntary emigrants?  We – our education, culture, etcetera – are greatly diminished by these losses.  One just keeps hoping that Nigeria would provide the environment for our children’s children (seems rather late for our kids) to make a choice of where they would want to live.

Another thing that amazes me is that a college like Amherst – after almost two centuries – is still deliberately small but the quality of knowledge she imparts is among the best in the world.  How can one compare the world view of students with easy access to permanent collections of “American and European old masters, an English Baroque room, ancient Assyrian carvings, Russian modern art, West African sculpture …” with their Nigerian counterparts caught up in the malaise that ails Nigeria.  I’ve read of UI “students” whose boutique and hairdressing businesses call for two, three Dubai trips EVERY MONTH!  Who will save tertiary education?  Definitely not this government that tries to cure a patient of ringworm while neglecting the same patient’s leprosy!  The English translation, dear, is never as spot-on – or colorful – as the Yoruba. [Alhaji Yar Adua fi ete si’le, o npa lapalapa. Item: recommends cuts in political appointees’ salaries of a couple million naira; perks, though, run in the tens of millions of naira EACH]

I encourage you to visit the Mead in person… the authentic experience of seeing original works of art in person is irreproducible—and potentially life altering… [Mead’s website]

Cloth only wears to shreds [Yoruba fabrics generally outlive the owners] is a feast for the eyes.  In his Foreword, Abiodun pays tribute to Beier whom he describes as “an Are in our midst … Are are constantly on the move … transforming themselves ever in pursuit of their ori, their inner spiritual head, their personal destiny…” He praises Ulli and his second wife, Georgina for their work in collecting and documenting Yoruba textiles and clothes of exquisite beauty, 160 of which now forms part of Amherst College’s permanent collection. While members of Nigeria’s so-called social and political elites, the perennials on university councils these days for the most part have no clue and could not care less about university education, Amherst shows how it is in other lands.

Ulli and Georgina Beier’s picture that graces one of the front pages is telling:  while she looks towards the camera, he – in an elaborately-embroidered etu, [one of Yoruba’s three classic textiles as I once explained when you thought etu was a cap style] – looks straight ahead.  Taken at the Berlin Theatre Festival in 1964 where Late Duro Ladipo’s Oba Koso was performed, Beier was perhaps looking into a future that still contained many more wanderings from his Osogbo base, wanderings that have greatly benefited Yoruba culture.  He did find a place of beautiful retirement Down Under though many in Yorubaland would doubt Australia is Beier’s  ori.

Don’t worry, dear that all your space has been mostly “wasted”.  For snippets from the catalog, look forward to next week, and Beier’s “Afterword” as the third instalment.

I try to believe I’m well since you’re well!

Aunt Tola.

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3 Comments on “Ulli Beier, teacher, patron of the arts, passes away far from “home” – Tola Adenle”

  1. the Ugwo's Family Says:

    To whom it may concern, we need to get in touch with Georgina Beier, the second wife of PROF, ULLI BEIER
    These are the Ugwo’s family, when you tell her she will know, my dad, Mr Governor Ugwo, works together with them at the the University of Ife now: Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile ife, osun state, Nigeria. she come with PROF, ULLI BEIER to our house in nigeria 4years ago, we exchange contact but we have lost the source of contact now, she will have been looking forward to here from us but am sure she could not reach the number cos its lost…. i will be happy to speak with her again..



  2. Odun Says:

    May his soul rest in peace. Thanks to this man for his gifts to Nigeria.




  1. » A mighty tree AKALA - June 2, 2011

    […] today, I came across a thoughtfully written blog called Emotan by Tola Adenle.  She wrote about Ulli Beier and the Beier collection of Yoruba textiles and photographs at Amherst College.  Amherst organized […]


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