|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following was published in "California Waterfowl", October/November 1999, |
From Marsh to Mountain
A Book Review by Tony Arnold
Inman's biography of Harry Adamson is what is known in the trade as a
coffee table book. In my house no cup of coffee will be allowed
within 10 feet of it.
Imagine having at your fingertips a
whole gallery of Harry's works, smaller than the originals of course,
but covering far more wildlife subjects than most of us waterfowl
addicts ever imagined of him. Imagine being able to seek out at
your leisure the tiny details that make Harry's art such a joy to
examine with care: the hidden Eurasian wigeon mixed in with a flight of
ours, the sneaky spoonie (usually pictured flying or swimming in the
opposite direction from the painting's majestic sprig or mallard
subjects), the modest coot casting his own critical eye over incoming
waterfowl. Then turn to the Rocky Mountain sheep, the tropical birds,
or even the one plate whose live subjects are just a pair of sleepy
horses. And finally, from Diane's exhaustive research, learn about the
man himself and how he became probably the foremost waterfowl artist in
this country and perhaps in the world today.
Every one of
Harry's plates demands careful attention. Every one rewards that
attention with new discoveries. Yet, every one stands on its own as a
superb overall composition.
For most of us dedicated hunters,
waterfowl will be the primary game bird, or course. Here, there are
others that make you reach convulsively for a non-existent gun as they
sweep past or leap from hidden waters. But my own favorite has no
connection with hunting. It is the pair of Audubon-like mergansers
fishing a tidal pool, with a background of almost audible surf and
palpable salt air.
I get an odd sense of challenge from these
wonderfully meticulous works, and I finally found one technicality for
which a life-long California resident such as Harry might be forgiven:
red-legged black ducks in an East Coast October setting. The red legs
are a hallmark of late-season northern birds, or were when I hunted
them. Maybe that no longer holds true. (But thank you, Harry. You've
given me the one tiny negative note that all reviewers are supposed to
In the accompanying text, Diane chronicles Harry's long
life, decade by decade, in great detail. She describes the
struggle of Harry and his wife Betty to launch his career in a highly
competitive field, the voyages that they have taken together over the
years to all corners of the earth, and the worldwide honors that have
been given to him. The text is liberally salted with quotes from
well-known figures in the waterfowl world, from England's Peter Scott
to many Californians familiar to us all. Here, my critique is her
description of the late Charles ("Howdy") Allen merely as a
Realtor. A talented amateur waterfowl artist in his own right,
Howdy was trapped in the real estate profession and hated it. His
two sons Wheat and Peter, however, fulfilled his destiny by becoming
internationally known sculptors of wildlife. As Diane notes, Harry
escaped Howdy's kind of fate thanks mostly to Betty's unflagging
support and role as a breadwinner in their early years together. There
but for the grace of God.
|Biography from Oakland Museum:|
following, from the Oakland Museum, is a description of the exhibition
"Wild Wings: The Waterfowl Art of Harry Curieux Adamson" in the Natural
Sciences Special Gallery|
Every fall, in California's largest
wildlife spectacle, hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese, swans and
shorebirds migrate south from Canada and Alaska to spend the winter in
the wetlands of the Central Valley. Each spring they head north to
spend a brief summer in the rich feeding grounds and protected nesting
sites of the far north.
"Wild Wings: The Waterfowl Art of Harry
Curieux Adamson", presents 45 original oil paintings, along with a
number of sketches and early temperas, that span this Bay Area artist's
60-year career. Many of the paintings, owned by private collectors,
have never before been displayed in public.
includes an examination of the nature of avian flight as revealed
through the meticulously accurate imagery of the paintings. A custom
sound environment for the exhibition uses recordings from the museum's
California Library of Natural Sounds.
Adamson is described by
internationally famous wildlife artist David Maass as "unsurpassed when
it comes to portrayals of wildfowl on the wing in their natural
surroundings." Wildlife artist Owen Gromme says Adamson is simply "one
of the finest waterfowl artists in the world."
Still painting at
age 86, Adamson is perhaps the oldest living wildlife artist today.
Throughout his lengthy career, Adamson has observed, studied and
painted the colorful participants in the massive annual waterfowl
migration. Although best known for his landscapes awash with flocks of
mallards and pintails, on occasion Adamson has painted bighorn sheep,
condors and falcons, and the unusual and colorful tropical birds
encountered during his many trips abroad. Examples of these are also
included in the exhibition.
Part of the appeal of Adamson's
paintings, says exhibition curator Tom Steller, is that, "He paints to
the hunter's dream." Although Adamson has never been a hunter himself,
many of his paintings, done from the position of a duck blind, evoke
memories in the outdoors enthusiast, whether they be of an
early-morning close-up view of a flock of mallards or of a stunning
landscape experienced. A lover of nature and the outdoors, Adamson has,
over his lifetime, donated paintings and prints worth close to three
million dollars to raise money for conservation causes. Adamson was a
founding member of the Mt. Diablo Audubon Society, which this year
celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Viewed by critics in the early
part of the century as "mere illustration," wildlife art has since
gained in status and popularity, due in part to the emergence of an
evocative realism in the artworks that goes far beyond mere
illustration and in part to the current concern about vanishing
habitats and species. Biographer Diane Inman says, "Without a doubt,
Adamson's work has contributed to the overwhelming acceptance of
wildlife art in the 20th century."
Adamson's work has frequently
been displayed nationally and internationally in the prestigious "Birds
in Art" and "Animals in Art" exhibitions, and has been shown at the
Smithsonian Art Museum, the British Museum and the Carnegie Museum of
Natural History in Pittsburgh, among others. He was named the first
California Waterfowl Association Artist of the Year and 1979 Ducks
Unlimited Artist of the Year.
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|