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Ella, Wayman, Jr., and Naomi Priscilla, circa 1925
Wayman Adams (1883-1959)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
52 x 40 inches
Signature Details: Wayman Adams
Status: The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Wayman Adams was born in humble surroundings on a farm near Muncie, Indiana. His Quaker father was a livestock breeder and amateur artist whose own enthusiasm for painting and drawing encouraged his son’s early interest in art. In 1904 Adams enrolled at the Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, where he spent four years. In 1910 he accompanied William Merritt Chase and other artists on a study trip to Italy; in 1912 he made a similar trip to Spain with Robert Henri. There he met Margaret Borroughs of Austin, Texas, a talented fellow artist and former art teacher, whom he married in 1918. They had one child, Wayman Adams Jr., better known as “Snig,” born in 1924.

An enthusiastic advocate of alla prima technique (painting directly on unprimed canvas), Adams painted in the style of Chase and Henri, often completing a portrait in a sitting of three or four hours. At one time, he maintained studios in Indianapolis, New York City and Philadelphia. During the winter months he traveled to picturesque and exotic settings. In 1916 he made his first visit to New Orleans; thereafter, he spent several winters in the French Quarter, painting portraits and genre pictures of black subjects.

In the autumn of 1925 at the age of forty-two, Adams returned to New Orleans to paint Mayor Martin Behrman. Arriving with his wife, Margaret, and their year-old baby, he recorded their visit in Ella, Wayman Jr., and Naomi Priscilla. Radiating an intimacy and gentleness rarely found in Adams’s work, this portrayal of his son, the child’s nanny, and her small daughter is one of the artist’s most appealing paintings. The figures, though posed asymmetrically, form a pyramid in the classical manner, while the interplay of vertical and horizontal lines in the background maintains the balance. This subtle arrangement is underscored by the curving forms of the figures and the cropped paintings behind. NRS


Bragg, Jean. Knute Heldner and the Art Colony in Old New Orleans. New Orleans, Louisiana: Jean Bragg Gallery, 2000.

Pennington, Estill Curtis. Downriver: Currents of Style in Louisiana Painting 1800-1950. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 1991.


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This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.



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