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    OL Samuels dies; creative folk artist won state, national acclaim, family asks for help for expenses

    July 07, 2017
    By: Michael E. Abams

    One of the last things O.L. Samuels spoke about was that he was ready to meet Jesus.

    That meeting must have occurred Thursday, July 6, when my friend O.L. departed this world to go to a better place, having relinquished to humanity a collection of artistic work that engages everyone, enough so that it has been acquired by collectors, museums, and hundreds of people, some of whom bought piece after piece.

    He was prolific, if anything, and his wood carvings of everything from dinosaurs to singer Ray Charles to angels to tempestuous demons to glittering fish must have numbered in the thousands, and now they belong to the people who will be without O.L. to explain each piece with a special home-brewed tale.

    The family, without resources at this time of great need,  has asked for contributions from people to help pay for O.L.‘s funeral expenses at https://www.gofundme.com/ol-samuel-funeral

    A few years ago he won an award as one of Florida’s best artists, but he probably equalled the lot of them in sheer ingenuity, if not industry. He hardly slept for working on his glittering speckled wood carvings, one of his favorites the Tennessee walking horse depicted here.

    I was sure that had he lived in the Renaissance, he would have been matching the great artists, and, perhaps, setting a pace in imagination, having, as he said, swam with alligators and recovered from shootings and various calamities, such as a crippling fall from a tree which left him near death, a grisly stomach knifing where he surprised the doctors and recovered, and a bullet wound or two. He had been a prizefighter,  a bounty hunter with a gun, a gospel and blues singer, an arborist, and, finally a folk artist and a minister.

    He might have matched Caravaggio and Benvenuto Cellini weapons in hand. He dressed handsomely on formal occasions, as it might befit an artist of standing. He was a knockout at birthdays, awards ceremonies and such.

    He told ingenious fables. And then, he would lecture about Noah, Moses or Jesus to his visitors, including the Mormons - he called them “the Normans” - who learned a lesson from knocking on his door once.

    “They couldn’t answer my questions,” O.L. told me plainly. Of course, when Jimmy Buffet spent hours gabbing with O.L. after ringing the doorbell one day, the outcome was happier on both ends.

    His wife Gladys, who had been thinking of a doctoral program, married a man who could not read or write. This is a story that craves explanation. Ms. Samuels paints with the soft brush of memory when it comes to the miracle of this couple.

    The day was Feb. 14, 2005.

    They met while both were getting gasoline for their cars.

    “He asked me to read his horoscope and I told him he should throw that down,  it wasn’t real, he needed to pick up the Bible and read that.  He said, “Ma’am, I spend 20 or 30 dollars a day to get people to read my horoscope.”

    Ms. Samuels said that O.L. as a youngster had been abused by his aunt who whipped him and he grew up to think that the horoscope was the key to knowing what would happen the next day.

    What occurred after that was the story of a romance and a marriage of two people of deep faith.

    “His faith was stronger than any individual I have ever met,” she said.

    “I have met so many people who were spirited and strong,” she said, but O.L. was different. “He was just like lightning when it came to things God commanded us to do. If he fell short he would try so hard to get back into line. He wanted to be perfect in God’s sight.”

    At first she did not know he was an artist. When they married she told him to bring his work over to her house. Turned out that the house was hardly big enough for the hundreds of large carvings, wooden structures screwed together and covered with stippled paint like a Tennessee walking horse that weighed possibly 200 pounds.

    Add to that the paintings, decorated alligator and cow skulls, fantastic wooden fish and outlandish birds, horned devils, dinosaurs, walking sticks shaped like people,  and every thing else he was either working on or had finished for sale.

    One day she looked over and he was over in corner near window working on a piece “and I saw something that was like a form - like it was moving and it was right beside him. “I didn’t see his mouth move -  however I could hear a voice and I thought it was someone he was having a conversation with. He was not saying anything it is almost as if whatever it was was almost instructing him or suggesting to him.” She thinks it was a spirit.

    “Have you ever seen water pouring down a fountain but it’s clear?  It looked like it was shaking a little. That’s whatever it was next to him.”

    “I feel like it’s a spirit with him. When have you ever seen someone not use a pattern or something to cut things and when you see it an hour later or two or three hours later and it had formed into a shape, you know? I saw him go through pocket knife after pocket knife, hatchet after hatchet after hatchet.”

    O.L. once told me that one of his works brought a smile to a little boy, confined to his bed, who was thought by medical science to be incapable of expressing himself. There were a few miracles like that.

    The couple decided to bring their church into their small home, and the living room was full of several rows of pews, and O.L. preached from the dais in front on Sundays.

    He and his wife, who was also an ordained minister, welcomed parishioners every Sunday and he would regale them with stories from the Bible. 

    “He loved to talk about Moses many times he talked about David sometimes you would think he and Ezekiel were relatives,” said Ms. Samuels. “Before he passed he was preaching to all of the nurses about Ezekiel and the dry bones, of course.”

    How did an educated woman and a man who did not read or write manage to keep a household going?

    “We did fine because we both loved God,” said Ms. Samuels.

    “O.L. had so much wisdom and i could see where God favored him. He couldn’t read but it seemed that God completed him in so many other ways to make up for that part. O.L. had a mind that could see into people. He could look at a person and see so many things about a person. . . yes, he was awesome.”

    “He had so many gifts.  People couldn’t understand how he was so smart and couldn’t read. He stayed up many nights when he was working.”

    Now he is finally getting his rest.

    “He just wanted to know that somebody liked something if they just show they liked what he was doing it made him feel so good. We would sit down and cry together.” 

    Gladys Samuels had earned her bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in vocational and industrial education while working at Florida A&M University.

    “I had finished my masters and going to work on my doctorate. I had a bad fall (she hurt her arm) and because of that I was forced to retire.” 

    She was no stranger to hard work. “I began as a teacher’s aide and was immediately promoted to office assistant because of the experience I had previously elsewhere. I became a secretary, then staff assistant, then administrative assistant. I became a monitor and evaluator of programs and then I became faculty.”

    O.L. Samuels’ art is everywhere. Airports, the White House, museums from Baltimore to Thomasville, the Tallahassee City Hall and Leon County Courthouse. He had his share of shows,  including one at the old Mary Brogan museum, the LeMoyne Art Center, the Tallahassee Museum. He spoke at schools, and students sometimes came with their teachers to see his work and hear his tall tales.

    Survivors include his wife Gladys Samuels, a brother James Broadus, two sons Ossie Jr. and wife Sheila, Willie Frank and wife Barbara. Surviving also are Ms. Samuels’ children Stephanie Lawrence, Mary Jones, Sharise Riley and husband Harold, Eddie Johnson and Malcolm Cooper, all of Jacksonville.

    Strong and Jones Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements which will be announced Monday. 

    Gladys Samuels and her family have asked for help to pay for funeral expenses as have established a GO FUND ME site at https://www.gofundme.com/ol-samuel-funeral