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Willis A. Adams
(Goshen, Indiana, 1854 - 1932, Salt Lake City, Utah )
Born on March 10, 1854, Willis A. Adams grew up on a small frontier farm near Goshen, Indiana. His heritage can be traced to the Adams family in Massachusetts, which included John Adams and John Quincy Adams. While growing up, Adams gained a practical earnestness that was a natural consequence of long hours of hard work on his father's farm. At an early age, he displayed an ingenious resourcefulness for inventing and making tools.
However, contrary to his father's desire to have his son be an integral part of the family farm, Adams showed little interest in farm work and often wandered off to make sketches of the beautiful woods where he lived. Fortunately for Adams, his mother, a gentle and religious woman, acted as a mediator between Adams and his father. Adams' mother encouraged him and made it possible for Adams to continue cultivating his passion for art by convincing Adams' father that it was acceptable for his son to paint.
After seeing Willis' disinterest in farming, Adams' father helped him find a partnership in a farm implement business. This position led to further employment and a partnership in a photography gallery with a Mr. Dowdy, in Goshen, Indiana. Because at this time, cameras and the developing process contained many flaws, Adams spent his time with Mr. Dowdy improving the photos through manual touch-ups. This experience taught Adams the skills he needed to paint portraits in oil and to draw them in charcoal and pencil.
Possessing a quiet, serious, introspective, and modest temperament, Adams was disciplined enough to educate himself. He became an avid reader and read everything he could find. This love for reading later led him to collect an impressive personal library. Unfortunately, the library was destroyed in the Park City fire of 1898.
After working with his partner Mr. Dowdy, Adams was able to receive formal instruction in art at the Chicago Institute of Art. There Adams studied the techniques and styles of the "Masters." Realizing his art was not likely to sustain practical living, Adams soon left Chicago and returned home. Adams' next opportunity for formal art education was a winter term of studying art in San Francisco, which occurred after he had settled in Park City, Utah.
In the 1870s, Adams and his brother had decided to move to Ogden, Utah, to establish a photography gallery. But shortly after moving to Ogden, Adams moved on to Park City, where rich deposits of ore had recently been discovered and were attracting miners and settlers from all over the area. Adams established a gallery in Park City and was very busy doing portraits, banquets, weddings, etc., since photography was still limited to professionals.
In 1888, Adams met and married Mary Ellen Dye. Mary was a great source of support to Adams and encouraged him to cultivate his artistic talents. Her frugality and thriftiness with money helped the couple during their marriage, because, as Adams had feared, being an artist did not always provide the necessary means for living.
Adams worked in oils, watercolors, pastels, charcoal, crayon, and pencil drawings. Although the quality and worth of Adams' works were not generally accepted until after his death, the painter did exhibit three paintings in the World's Fair of 1904 and was recognized for his portraits of Senator and Mrs. Thomas F. Kearns. Adams' own modesty never allowed him to promote the sale of his work.
Throughout Adams' life, his passion for painting led him to create reflections of natural moods and settings found in nature during spring, summer, and fall. (Adams had a particularly strong dislike of the cold winter season.) A close personal friend of the artist John Hafen, Adams accompanied him in painting expeditions throughout Utah's mountains and canyons.
Because of Adam's modest nature and lack of public success, many of his art works remained in the family. Judge W.W. Ritter, the adopted son of Adams and his wife, presently owns a collection of 300-400 original works, including many examples of all the mediums Adams used.