Bamidele Areogun was the son of Yoruba master carver, Dada Areogun of Osi-Ilorin, Ekiti, Nigeria. According to Father Kevin Carroll (who lived in the Ekiti area and diligently documented the life and times of Bamidele), Bamidele did not possess the same level of talent as his father at the beginning of his career. Indeed, Bamidele was never trained by his father. Bamidele instead, did his apprenticeship under Osamuko, who in turn had trained under Bamidele’s father, Dada Areogun.
After his apprenticeship under Osamuko, Bamidele became an itinerant carver, accepting odd jobs and commissions wherever he could find work in Yorubaland. The rapidly declining demand for traditional Yoruba carving forced Bamidele to supplement his income by felling trees, sawing planks and supplying timber, carving odds and ends from surplus wood.
Bamidele’s first serious commission came from the Ogboni cult, in Opin, Ekiti, where he was commissioned to carve drums, doors and pillars for the Ogboni houses from 1940 to 1943. There was a lull of a few years after the Ogboni cult commission, during which Father Carroll theorized that Bamidele’s skills declined from underemployment.
Bamidele met Father Carroll in 1947, at about the time Father Carroll was experimenting with the idea of developing a school for carvers. The experiment, known as the Oye (Ekiti) Project, sought to develop the artistic talents of local artists, but rechanneled the artists’ talents from traditional “pagan” carvings, to Christian (Catholic) icons and subjects.
To gain Father Carroll’s acceptance, Bamidele adopted a Christian name, and introduced himself to Father Carroll as “George”. Father Carroll, in his notes, observed even then that “George” Bamidele had a very high degree of technical talent, even though his skills had suffered rust from the lack of constant “suitable work that was necessary for the full development of a carver’s abilities.” Bamidele was also noted to be proficiently ambidextrous, to a degree Father Carroll observed as “uncanny”.
Bamidele concieved his work in four stages: Each stage has a name
1) ona lile – blocking out the main forms with an axe or adze
2) aletunle – working over the main forms and breaking them to smaller precise masses with an adze or a chisel, e.g. forms of ears, hands, eyes, etc.
3) didan – smoothing the forms, chiefly with a knife or chisel.
4) fifin – cutting sharp details such as hair, eyelids, and pattern work; this is chiefly the work of the knife.
The Father Carroll/George Bamidele collaboration became wildly successful, and Bamidele went on to become one of the most successful, acclaimed, and documented in African art history.