My names are Solomon Mugasia Wamisigo, born in Western Kenya in a small village bordering Kenya and Uganda called Busia.
I came to Nairobi city almost 500 miles from Busia to search for livelihood after finishing my secondary education and had to stay home for 3yrs trying to get college enrolment which I was not lucky because my parents were not able to finance my study.
I came to Nairobi in 1998 and lived with my step dad for six months and later went to stay with my aunt who was working at hog ranch as a caretaker for Peter Beard.
In 1999 Peter Beard came from the States and wanted young guys who could help him with little dot works and African child like drawings on his photos.
My aunt Tabita asked me if I could try and I accepted the challenge because after doing too many odd jobs in the city I couldn’t find one that was consistent with my survival.
But when Peter Beard wanted young guys to help I was among them chosen by Peter Beard and we were a group of almost ten guys. Eight men and two young ladies. I started as a dot Maker on Peter’s photos with the rest of the new recruits.
Peter Beard would encourage us on any little idea we had to put on his photos for one month or so and later on went to France and while there, he was sending us more photos after every three months.
We had to work hard under the guidance of three older artists and 5 of us including me were told to continue and the rest of the 5 guys were dismissed because of poor delivery on the work. Actually it was like a school exams everyday, working outside under the grass tent shade. I was being paid 45$ as my first salary in 1999..and gradually we were increased to 60$ in 2001. It was a monthly salary as we were working every day and going back on foot to our residence 4 kms from Hog Ranch to nearby Maasai town called Ongata Rongai. During that time I had not known Nejma because we were told she was already divorced from Peter Beard and she was staying with her daughter Zara in New York. Gilles Turle was our manager by then (a friend of Peter).
In 2002 Nejma came up with complaints about Peter Beard his agent Peter Tunney and this led to Nejma taking over the management of Peter Beard studio and company henceforth.
We started fresh again with 7 artists and Nejma improved on our salary to 90dollars a month in 2002 but she was still staying in New York and sending lots of plain photos of Peter Beard in various sizes large, medium and small for us to embellish around the border.
This was a continuous process month after month…year after year till 2006 when Nejma came with Peter and daughter Zara to visit their home Hog Ranch.
We were always excited when they visited and left again after some few weeks. We continued working and enjoying what I loved (art) which was now part of my life having gotten my spouse and having my first child in 2003.
During all this time there were my fellow colleagues who were being dismissed or left work because of misconduct but for me there was high esteem by Peter Beard and Nejma. Both did respect me and Loved my work. I trusted Nejma a lot and humbled at her with all my loyalty. In 2010 Nejma decided to dismiss six artists who decided to boycot work because of poor pay. Nejma increased our salary by 25 dollars each and we were at the rate of 200$ salary by 2010. My fellow artists refused to accept the deal and decided to leave me with one Lady called Elizabeth whom I trained on dot-work while I was illustrating the photos. I and Eliza accepted Nejma’s deal of 25$ because we had our family looking upon our support so I couldn’t risk my job.
I persevered a lot doing the illustrations alone while Eliza worked on the dots alone. Literally we had to take the position of the six artists who left.
Nejma couldn’t accept to employ any further artist and the bulk of work was on me and Eliza. Eventually we managed to take control and we were producing nice work and sending to Peter Beard studio New York.
In 2014 Nejma and Peter came again to visit Hog Ranch and this was the third time I had to meet Peter in almost 15 yrs and Nejma the second time to meet her too. They stayed at Hog Ranch for 2 months but Nejma disagreed with Eliza for coming late to work and she fired Eliza in 2014 and left for New York… leaving me alone in the studio.
I had now to do it alone for 3months and later on Nejma asked me to train her cook Esta if she could be interested in doing some dot work. I decided to train Esta again for another 4months and she picked up from Eliza. I was sorry for Eliza though but I couldn’t do anything to help her. Nejma was quite harsh and angry with her. Esta and I worked from 2014 to 2017 and produced lot’s of good pieces of art works to the Peter Beard studio New York.
One was that piece of orphaned baby cheetah which was sold for 672.000 USD. Nejma kept Esta as her confidant and always sent her to my little house in the camp to be spying on me.
Esta herself was staying outside the compound with her family but for me my family I had to relocate them 300 miles from Nairobi because it was becoming expensive for me to stay in the City. So I stayed at Peter Beard since 2008 but occasionally visited my family after every two weeks.
Nejma has my own personal paintings amounting to more than 50pieces that she promised to promote me with in New York to no avail up to now.
She increased my Salary after every two years with 10$ ..and expected me to survive on that…and off course I took her offer as my boss and humbled for that for almost 5yrs with 10dollars increment..
I was complaining on that issue and her response was that I should look for another job, a better one than what she offered me. I was desperate for money and I was always creative and doing few commission from neighbouring friends of Peter. I painted there tables and cars to make both ends meet.
I complained about this to Peter Beard himself in 2014 and he promised to sign one of his photos for me as a friendly gesture when he gets back to New York. I didn’t hear of Peter Beard henceforth but I did discover that the babycheetah artwork sold for 672.000 USD and discussed this with Esta and later on Esta told/ratted me out to Nejma that I was not happy since I was paid peanuts in comparison to the huge profits. After all I am THE artist doing all the artwork around the photos for many many years. Soon I was sent a dismissal letter by Nejma’s Manager Tasha.. that Nejma doesn’t need me again and that I should sign and leave.
When I heard about Peter Beard walking away from his home in Montauk to die in the nearby forest I was heartbroken and felt Peter could no longer deal with how his art and life was managed.
“The end of darkness” describes exactly my state of mind as of today. After a very dark period of several years and loosing my friend and co-artist Peter Beard, I joined forces with my Hog Ranch friend Maurits v. Falkenreck. Together we will continue the journey I was on together with Peter Beard.