Henry Adams, American art historian at Case Western Reserve University, was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cleveland Arts Prize.
Despite the achievement, Adams has no plans to slow down anytime soon. “I would hope that my best work is in front of me,” he said shortly before receiving the recognition last Saturday.
According to the Cleveland Arts Prize program, the recognition “honors individuals who have expanded the community’s participation in the arts and helped make the region more hospitable to creative artistic expression.” It’s the oldest award of its kind in the United States.
“I was thrilled,” Adams said on learning he was a 2010 honoree. “You look at the people who win and it’s a distinguished list, including Toni Morrison, Philip Johnson and Viktor Schreckengost. It reminds one that a number of notable people have had a connection to Cleveland.”
Chris Pekoc, one of Cleveland’s leading artists and a friend of Adams, has collaborated with him on several projects. “Henry is a very deserving winner. He has the ability to look at a situation and size it up the way the rest of us just don’t arrive at. He’s a brilliant man,” said Pekoc, a lecturer for Case Western Reserve's art studio program.
Adams specializes in American art of the 19th century, and has written books about artists from the 19th and early 20th centuries. “When I started my career American art was considered less prestigious. I was struck by the fact that there was a lot of interesting material that either hadn’t been written about or it hadn’t been written well.”
Adams has worked at several museums, including time spent as curator of American Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He’s also curated exhibits at museums in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Mo. and Jacksonville, Fla. He said his exhibit on Schreckengost at the Cleveland Museum of Art was “extremely satisfying.”
In addition to his work as a curator, Adams enjoys a thriving writing career. He describes his recent book Tom and Jack: The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock as “the best work I’ve done so far.”
As a museum coordinator, Adams wrote short articles. As a professor, he is able to devote more time to writing larger projects like books; he completes outlines for those projects during the summer.
He’s currently working on a book about Grant Wood, the American painter whose works such as American Gothic captured the people, places and lifestyles of the Midwest.
He also plans to give a talk on Andrew Wyeth, a 20th century American realist painter best known for Christina’s World and the Helga series of paintings. Wyeth died in 2009. “I got to know him slightly toward the end of his life,” Adams said.
Adams enjoys his role of helping young people discover their creative side. “Teaching has quite an impact. You can tell when students aren’t interested, so you have to learn how to make it interesting for them. They’re pretty frank; if they don’t like something they’ll let you know.”
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