Wayman E. Adams
- Delaware County
- Marion County
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Wayman Adams was born in Muncie, Indiana on Sept. 23, 1883 on a small stock-raising farm near Albany. He was a son to father, Nelson Perry Adams, and mother, Mary Elizabeth Justice Adams. As a child, his father traveled and would bring back impressive draft animals such as Clydesdales or Percherons. Wayman’s father, Nelson, an amateur artist enjoyed painting these beautiful animals while teaching his son to do so as well.
Adams had no formal education past grade school, until later in his young adult life. While he originally wanted to go to art school, financing it became an issue and so, he instead began to work in the dairy lunch-room downtown. He worked there full time and eventually became manager. Later, he then moved to Louisville to take charge of a new lunch-room there and temporarily gave up painting altogether to focus on work. After working for some time there in Kentucky, he moved again, this time to Philadelphia. However, he quickly came back to Indianapolis in 1904 at the age of 21. Finally, he was able to enroll in school and went to John Herron Art Institute where he studied under William Forsythe while also working full time night shifts. Following that time, he did some traveling that would influence some of his choices in later subject matter. In 1910, he traveled to Florence, Italy with William Chase. In 1912, to Madrid with Robert Henri. It was while in Italy that he met a fellow art student from Texas, Margaret Graham Borroughs, whom he later married in 1918. Together, they had a son named Wayman Jr., who was said to be one of his father’s most favorite models. Additional scenes that he painted were a result of travels to New Orleans, San Francisco, and New York.
In 1914, Adams painted a series of portraits for the city hospital. He was to paint children whose families had been in the United States for generations and also children of immigrants to represent the various nationalities of which the city of Indianapolis was composed. It was considered to be one of the most ambitious public art projects in Indiana’s history. Originally, 24 portraits were to be done and while some are now missing, they were all initially installed in the pediatric ward of the hospital. For the portraits, he painted boys and girls of Hungarian, Romanian, Greek, Irish, Italian, German, French, and Croatian heritage, along with Jewish and African American children. His career would soon branch out to New York. After painting a portrait for author Booth Turkington, the subject urged him to go to the city. Once in New York, he studied at the Grand Central Art School.
Adams became known as one of the most highly respected and sought after portrait artists in the United States and has been deemed by some to be the best artist of Indiana’s Golden Age of Art. He held a Quaker philosophy and was said to be very mild, quiet, and modest in his manner. Further, he was most interested in capturing the humanity of individuals with vitality in his portraits. Notably astonishing was his ability to paint quickly, usually finishing portraits in just one to two days. His work also includes still life paintings, water colors, and landscapes. Although he preferred painting, he also worked as a sculptor, etcher, and lithographer.
For some time, he had a second studio on W. 57th Street in New York, where he spent part of each year. In the 1920s, Adams bought a farm in that same state, outside of the city, where he later established The Old Mill School. The artist was also a very respected teacher who taught at the Grand Central Art School, John Herron Art Institute, and in Taxco, Mexico. Also while in New York, he taught 10+ summer portrait classes in his main studio in Elizabethtown. He was successful with such an endeavor by charging tuition and allowing participants to receive educational credit for taking his courses. Finally, while in the big city, a film was made about him which captured Adams painting his portrait of prominent New York family member Frederick Van Wyck.
The artist was commissioned to paint portraits for a multitude of very important individuals. He painted celebrities, U.S. Presidents, noted musicians, authors, painters, scientists, and public society figures. Some of the more prominent figures included: President Harding; President Coolidge; President Hoover; poet James Whitcomb Riley; actor Otis Skinner; golfer Bobby Jones; Indiana governor and vice president Thomas Marshall; L.A. Pittenger; members of the Ball family; and Indiana artist John E. Bundy.
Many would agree that his best known work is The Art Jury, a group portrait of the four remaining members of the Hoosier Group-T.C. Steele, Otto Stark, J. Ottis Adams, and William Forsythe.
His many exhibitions include paintings displayed at: the Foreigner’s House; the Southside Jewish Federation; the Southside Turners’ Hall; Germania Park; the Colored Young Men’s Christian Association; Silverburg Drug Store; Hotel Bartlett (his very 1st painting); the Chicago Art Institute; and the National Academy of Design New York (Fine Arts Building). He showed promise at a very early age, winning first prize at the Indiana State Fair at age 12. Also, he was selected to paint a portrait of Jennie Creek of Milgrove at age 16, to be presented in France. Finally (and much later in his career), he was the first painter ever to receive the high honor Gold Metal for Merit of the Holland Society of New York.
[IMA Research Library Artist Files; Indianapolis Star Nov. 27, 1933; Marion Leader-Tribune Mar. 11, 1930; Additional unmarked Indianapolis Star excerpts]
The following information was submitted by a site visitor:
Wayman Adams (1883-1959) is one of Indiana’s best known portrait painters of the twentieth century. He was born on a small stock-raising farm in the city of Muncie in Delaware County, Indiana. Influenced by his father, he began painting animals and doing portraits of people in his hometown, gaining recognition. He left home at twenty to study at the John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis where he studied under Stark, Forsyth, and Adams while supplementing his income by working at a restaurant and painting portraits on the side. He went on to study in Spain and Florence where he met his wife Margaret Graham Boroughs and had son Wayman Jr. He became one of the most talented portrait artists of the time, capturing the likenesses of several Indiana Governors, debutants, and even Presidents. He spent his last years in his wife’s hometown of Austin, Texas.