Write Columbia's History
Remembering Sam
Florence (Flo) Grant
Staff Member

I came to work at Columbia in 1961 and enjoyed knowing Sam Steinberg for 21 of his 40 years here. On April 19, 1982, the Columbia Spectator carried this headline: "Sam Steinberg is dead at 85. CU's candy salesman and painter was a 40-yr fixture on campus." His obituary appeared in the New York Times on April 21, 1982. It stated that he traveled each morning from the Bronx to sell candy bars and his own cardboard paintings on the Columbia campus, mostly outside Hamilton Hall and inside College Library, becoming a familiar figure to generations of students.

Craig Bunch wrote a great article about Sam for Folk Art Magazine in the summer of 1996. He describes a typical Steinberg work as "whimsical and surreal as a Klee or Miro, as sincere as a Grandma Moses, as enamored of the boldly colored plane as a Stella and of the almond eye as the Egyptian tomb paintings—and as original as they come. Craig quotes Sam speaking like this: "Hey mistah, I got paintings here! Or maybe you want a Hoishey bar." Another quote: "He enjoyed a small but livable income, fresh air, no boss, steady customers, and in his own restricted universe, a measure of fame."

Four of his paintings are hanging in my office, 101 Low Library, and it's enjoyable when someone from the past comes in and exclaims: "You've got Sam's!" Wouldn't it be great if we could have an exhibit of his works on campus? I'd love to see anyone else's Sam's. Stop by and see my Sam's.

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