A former Dudley Zoo keeper sacked for sketching animals rather than looking after them has made amends more than 50 years later.
After getting the elbow in 1962, Rama Samaraweera, known as Sam, turned his hand to art full-time and became a leading wildlife painter. Now, at 89, he has just painted three original oils for the Castle Hill attraction to thank Dudley Zoo for being his “art school”.
ABOVE – Wonderful gesture – Sam’s nephew Phil Brooks hands over the three original paintings to DZG’s Office Manager Lynne Grove
His nephew Phil Brooks delivered the specially-produced masterpieces to DZG and each one has a thank you message on the back, shown left, from the Birmingham-born artist.
In a letter accompanying the artwork Sam, who now lives in Mid Wales, wrote: “I learned to understand the big cats and other animals whilst working as a zoo keeper at Dudley Zoo.
“I was soon sacked for spending too much time drawing and studying the animals. This was my only art school.”
ABOVE – Sam Samaraweera with some of his stunning creations in his Mid Wales studio
Nephew Phil, head of photography at Dudley College, added: “The three pictures are to say thank you to Dudley Zoo for inspiring Uncle Sam and also to try and make amends for him not being the best ever zoo keeper!
“He’s been a professional wildlife painter for the last fifty years and to this day credits Dudley Zoo as the catalyst for his career.
“Uncle Sam was only at the zoo for a year but he did love the animals, especially the big cats. He used to walk the cheetahs around the site.”
ABOVE – Sam’s fabulous thank you gifts to DZG which he painted earlier this year
Zoo Director Derek Grove said: “We are so grateful to Sam for giving us these incredible pieces of art and, of course, for sharing his remarkable story.
“I’m glad he’s enjoyed such a rewarding career in art after leaving zoo keeping behind and we’ll definitely make sure the paintings take pride of place at Dudley Zoo.”
Sam has been an exhibitor with The Royal Academy and in the 1970s his ‘Clouded Leopard’ picture was the biggest-selling print in America.
He’s due to turn 90 next year and his GP puts his good health down to painting.
Phil added: “His doctor says it’s the painting which keeps Uncle Sam young because he gets so deeply lost in his work that it puts him into a meditative state.”
SAM’S STORY – In his own words
“As a four-year-old I drew tigers and other animals and was always encouraged by my father, a doctor and surgeon from Ceylon.
“Dad trained in the UK and worked as a GP in Birmingham where I was born. He told me stories of leopards and elephants in the jungle and told me I was an artist, and not a doctor.
“Forty years later I became a self-employed artist, having learned to understand the big cats and other animals whilst working as a zoo keeper at Dudley Zoo.
RIGHT: Sam Samaraweera strokes a cheetah at Dudley Zoo when he worked there as a keeper in 1962
“I was soon sacked for spending too much time drawing and studying the animals. This was my only art school.
“I fell in love with Grace the giraffe, who took a banana from my coat pocket each day wit