OAS President David Baker

The Passing of OAS President David Baker

OAS Members were saddened by the sudden death of our President, David Baker, who died in his home in Sydney on November 9th, 2009, shortly after returning from a trip to Vanuatu.

After retiring from a successful career in advertising, David was free to devote himself to his first love, Oceanic art. He was fascinated by New Guinea and had a long standing interest in sustaining creator communities there. He provided financial support for authentic malagan ceremonies on Tabar Island for many years, most recently the malagan preparations for the late chief Joel Pitsia. Because of the high cost (in pigs and money) involved in staging these ceremonies, their future would have been uncertain without David’s support.

He visited Tabar many times and also became interested in Trobriands art, making frequent collecting trips to the islands. He then discovered the exquisite tapa cloths of the Omie people of Mount Lamington and established an artist’s co-op that would enable Omie artists to receive a fair share of the income from their work. He ensured this by staging two very successful exhibitions at Bill Gregory’s Annandale Gallery, firmly establishing Omie bark cloths as fine art.

He also became fascinated by the art of Vanuatu, particularly art from Malekula and Ambrym and his exhibition of Ambrym art at Annandale Gallery last year was a landmark show in which he not only presented wonderful old log drums and black palm grade figures, but also exhibited many superb temar figures, the first time many of us had ever heard of or seen these ritual sculptures.

David was incredibly generous. He personally paid for health procedures for many Papua New Guineans who needed them, brought visitors, including dancers and artists, from Oro and Vanuatu to Australia, where they stayed as guests in his home, and constantly subsidised OAS activities out of his own pocket. He was our President for three years and would have retired at our AGM this year.

All of us will miss him, not only for his fantastic work for the Society, but also because of his larger than life personality – he knew how to have a good time!

All of us in OAS offer our sympathy to David’s wife, Ros, who always supported his enthusiasms and tolerated a constant stream of PNG artists and dancers and OAS Members who invaded her home frequently, and to his daughters Louise and Kate, son-in-law Sam Dawson and the Baker family. David’s passing is a huge loss to them and to all of us who knew him.