Adams, Kenneth M.
Painter, Muralist, Educator, Lithographer
Active in Albuquerque, N.M.
Sound recording: 1 sound tape reel ; 7 in.
Transcript: 21 p.
Format: An interview of Raymond Jonson conducted by S. Loomis is also on this tape.
Collection Summary: An interview of Kenneth Miller Adams conducted 1964 Apr. 23, by Sylvia Glidden Loomis, for the Archives of American Art.
Adams discusses his involvement with federal art projects in Taos, N.M., including easel painting and mural painting for the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP) and the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). He describes the contracts and methods of TRAP; he recalls Gustave Baumann, George Biddle, Emil J. Bisttram, Raymond Jonson, Willard Nash, and other associated with the federal projects of the WPA. He also reflects on his role as artist-in-residence at the University of New Mexico.
Biographical/Historical Note: Kenneth M. Adams (1897-1966) was a painter, mural painter, and educator from Albuquerque, N.M.
Conducted as part of the Archives of American Art's New Deal and the Arts project, which includes over 400 interviews of artists, administrators, historians, and others involved with the federal government's art programs and the activities of the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s and early 1940s.
Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.
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Also in the Archives
This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Kenneth M. Adams, 1964 Apr. 23, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Interview with Kenneth Adams
Conducted by Sylvia Loomis
At the Artist's studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico
April 23, 1964
The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Kenneth Adams on April 23, 1964. The interview was conducted at Kenneth Adams' studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico by Sylvia Loomis for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: The particular phase of art to be emphasized is that of the Federal art projects of the 1930’s and 40’s. At the present time the large retrospective exhibition of Mr. Adams’ paintings, drawings and lithographs is on view at the Fine Arts Gallery at the University of New Mexico in conjunction with one of Mr. Raymond Jonson’s. This is supplemented by the 32-page catalogue in which a chronological summary of his (Mr. Adams’) career as an artist is given. In this, I noticed that you were first involved in the Federal art project in 1933 under the direction of the Treasury Department, Mr. Adams. Could you tell us how you became involved in the project and something about your first assignment?
KENNETH ADAMS: I was teaching the autumn semester of 1933 in the art department of the University of New Mexico and when this project was first advanced and I was approached about going on it, the wage of $42.40 a week which the government was willing to pay was greater than I could earn as a professor at the University, and inasmuch as I had taken a teaching assignment simply because I had to something to earn money in order to eat and I was feeling a little unhappy over the situation that my art didn’t produce enough revenue for me to live on—when this opportunity came along I decided to go on it, as a matter of fact, went on it before leaving the University. The first canvas that I painted is now the property of the University of New Mexico, and it was of a church of San Antonita, New Mexico, which is up in the Tijeras Canyon. When I had finished that I decided that instead of going on with the second semester of the University that I would return to Taos and devote my entire time to painting, which was the thing that I wanted to do anyway. That is what I did.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: What was the first assignment? An easel painting?
KENNETH ADAMS: Yes. The first assignment was easel painting and they had several brackets, as I remember, in terms of wage scale, and I remember that I felt very good about being placed in the top bracket of craftsmen.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Who was it that came to ask you about it?
KENNETH ADAMS: I think it was Gustave Baumann. In fact, practically all the communication I had at the regional level was with Gustave Baumann.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: So you went back up to Taos?
KENNETH ADAMS: We retained a house at the Ranchos de Taos and all the time that I was in Albuquerque I always felt that my teaching here was only temporary, and we kept our house there, and at the end of the semester I returned to Taos and went on painting portraits, landscapes, and watercolors, and as I recall, I remember doing one lithograph.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Were these all done under the PWAP project?
KENNETH ADAMS: They were all done under the Treasury Art Project.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Then at what point were you asked to the murals at Goodland Kansas?
KENNETH ADAMS: I can’t remember the date, but was after I had returned to Ranchos de Taos.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: How did you do those? Were they oil paintings that were then erected on the walls?
KENNETH ADAMS: Yes. All of the murals that I did with the government were painted on canvas and then leaded to the walls.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: I see.
KENNETH ADAMS: With white lead and varnish.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Was this for a post office in Goodland, Kansas? Was that a post office there?
KENNETH ADAMS: Yes.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Did you do the one at Deming, New Mexico, soon after that?
KENNETH ADAMS: I don’t recall how soon after, it couldn’t have been at a much later date.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: And that was done in the same way, oil on canvas?
KENNETH ADAMS: Yes, oil on canvas and leaded to the walls.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Then these murals that you did at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center with Dasburg and Lockwood, was that a Federal Art Project?
KENNETH ADAMS: No, that was privately financed by the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: I see. After the work at Deming, was that the last of the projects that you worked on?
KENNETH ADAMS: That was the last of the government projects I attempted. I recall writing letters to the effect that I would like further employment, but I was told that the project was being closed down. I can’t remember the date—I believe there’s a letter in there.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: I see. Well, that closed early in 1935, that particular one, the Treasury Department, and then a few months later the WPA started with Vernon Hunter as its supervisor.
KENNETH ADAMS: I’m almost positive that it can be found among my contracts and letters. I think my contract for the Deming Post Office was under the first Treasury Art Project. I don’t believe that I ever worked on the other with Vernon Hunter. I don’t recall that I did.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: The murals at Colorado Springs, do you remember when that followed, as far as chronology is concerned?
KENNETH ADAMS: I think it followed the Deming mural.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: So that might have put a stop to it too, if you had another commission? You went on into private work rather than with the Federal Art Projects. You weren’t associated with it for a very long period, then, were you?
KENNETH ADAMS: No.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Do you know what happened to any of the other works that you did?
KENNETH ADAMS: Well, the portrait of Juan Duran, which is one of the paintings that I delivered to the Treasury Department—that painting was allocated by the government—by the Treasury Department—to the Labor Department building, where it hangs today.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Tell us about trying to get that for the exhibition.
KENNETH ADAMS: Well, at the time we were corresponding and trying to locate works of mine for my retrospective exhibition at the University, I wrote to a friend in Washington to the effect that I understood that my portrait of Juan Duran executed back in the Treasury Art Project during the Roosevelt administration was hanging in the Labor Department building, but she evidently misunderstood. Anyway she had friends in the Treasury Department and sent them scouring that building, and reported back that there was no such canvas in the Treasury Department building; that it had probably been allocated to some regional office of the Treasury Department, the Bureau of Revenue, and said that she didn’t know how to pursue the search any further, and would I please drop a note to this your gentleman—I can’t recall his name—who had been most helpful in trying to find the painting. This I did, and I happened to mention in my letter to this gentleman that I understood it was hanging in the Labor Department Building, giving me the name of the gentleman that I should request to for its loan to the retrospective exhibition, which I did, so it is hanging in the present show. I consider it one of my very best portraits.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: You’re lucky that it worked out that way.
KENNETH ADAMS: I happened to notices, in looking over that original contract that I had on employment on the Treasury Art Project, that we were to be paid $42.40 and, if I read the contract correctly, we were to furnish the materials, brushes, paints, canvas, etcetera, but I think that must have been changed because I definitely remember being furnished materials.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Well, I think right at the beginning it was necessary, but it was such a problem for the artists to provide the financing, particularly on these large murals, that they changed that. I know during the WPA it was necessary for the sponsor of a project to furnish materials. The government would furnish the artists and pay him but it would not furnish the materials. That had to come from the sponsors. I remember Mr. Bisttram saying, at the beginning it was necessary for the artists to furnish their own materials.
KENNETH ADAMS: Well I don’t remember that. I do remember having received shipments of color and paper for watercolors. On the one lithograph, and it was an edition of fifty, George Miller in New York, who used to print for George Bellows’, printed my lithograph, but certainly I don’t recall having paid him for that service. The government must have paid it.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Oh. Is that lithograph in this retrospective show?
KENNETH ADAMS: Yes. It’s a woman’s head. It’s actually the head of a woman that I painted a great many things of—Benerica Tafoya. She was also the model for the World’s Fair painting that I won first prize on in 1939-1940, at the New York World’s Fair. But it was my understanding that anyone making application, that is any public institution, such as the University of New Mexico or public library, or anything of that sort, upon application to the Treasure Department could receive paintings, lithographs, or whatever they wanted.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Yes.
KENNETH ADADMS: I happen to know that the Raton Public Library has a copy of this particular lithograph.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Oh, is that right? What I was going on to next was to find out if there are other paintings, drawings, or lithographs in your present show that you did under the Federal Art Project?
KENNETH ADAMS: There are just the two, the landscape of San Antonita, and the portrait of Juan Duran and, oh, the lithograph.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: So there were those three. We’re particularly anxious to…
KENNETH ADAMS: But I remember doing two oils, one of the Ranchos church, which I confess I thought was an awfully bad job, and the other of a spring landscape, but I thought that was awfully good.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Do you know what happened to those?
KENNETH ADAMS: I haven’t the slightest idea.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: I see.
KENNETH ADAMS: I also said I did several watercolors on this project, but I can’t remember.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: That’s one of the things we’re trying to do, is track down some of this material that was done during that period, because there seems to be quite a mystery as to what happened to a great deal of it.
KENNETH ADAMS: Well, I guess unless it’s in the form of murals in public buildings a great deal of it probably is lost.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: It is. And also I think private individuals, or they might be some kind of officer or official in a public building, and maybe someone came in and didn’t like that painting so they said get rid of it and somebody took it home. You know, there could be a lot of that because there wasn’t any close check in those days.
KENNETH ADAMS: I know that’s true. The president of the University, Dr. Zimmerman, taking this particular painting for his personal office felt a little guilty about it.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Is that right?
KENNETH ADAMS: He felt that it wasn’t intentioned that way. It was a gift to the University from the Treasury Department, but he felt it should be exhibited where it would be seen publicly.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: I think that was more honorable than some of the thing that happened, when they went into private homes. So as it is still in the office of the President of the University I think that was quite legitimate, but a lot of things have been lost, and a good many things weren’t really worth exhibiting, so that those are filling up space in storage. I know they have over here at the Fine Arts Gallery quite a bit of WPA work that they gave me a lost of, but it is not good enough to show at all.
KENNETH ADAMS: You mean at our gallery?
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Yes. I checked first with both the Museum up at Santa Fe and down here to see what paintings or drawings of any of the WPA or Federal Art Projects work was in the permanent collection, and it is a problem here because there are so many that were not worth the storage space.
KENNETH ADAMS: Well, incidentally, there is a thing, maybe it is at the State Museum in Santa Fe, of Vernon Hunter’s, of a train. Now whether that was done on the project I don’t know.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: I don’t remember that as one of his. Because you see he was a supervisory and I don’t think he did any work.
KENNETH ADAMS: Have you investigated the Museum up there?
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Oh, yes. Thoroughly!
KENNETH ADAMS: They have some work from that period.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Yes, that’s right, they have some but not very much. Now in your work on the Treasury Department project, were you very closely supervised? Or were you allowed considerable freedom?
KENNETH ADAMS: No, I was not supervised. I don’t recall any inspection or any supervision at all. I was given pretty much carte blanche to do as I saw fit, and that applied to the selection of subject matter and the manner in which I was going to do it. I felt at no time, on either murals or on easel painting that there were any restrictions to what I did. It was left up to me.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Even the Postmasters of these two post offices, did the…?
KENNETH ADAMS: They seemingly had nothing to say about it.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Is that right? Now that is curious because I know in the case of…
KENNETH ADAMS: I think probably most of us would endeavor to develop our material, the material for our designs, out of a regional motivation, either landscape or the activities of the particular community. I know both of mine were.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: They were? Well, I’ve had two different versions of that already, one extreme was Mr. Bisttram up at Taos, who was assigned to do a mural at Ranger, Texas, and he quite a hard time getting their approval of anything that he wanted to do. They wanted him to…
KENNETH ADAMS: You mean local approval?
SYLVIA LOOMIS: That’s right. The Postmasters’ approval—they wanted him to something about the industries of that area and he just refused to. So they finally compromised on his doing a mural of some cowboys reading their mail in front of the post office. So they finally agreed on it. Now in the case of Raymond Jonson, he said he was going to exactly what he wanted to do and he wasn’t even going to let anybody see the sketches and they could take it or leave it. So it was accepted under those circumstances but you apparently hit the middle, and tried to what the community wanted, but you were allowed freedom to carry it out.
KENNETH ADAMS: I think you’ll find among my correspondence a letter, or a series of letters, relative to a mural that I was offered the commission to do in Melrose, Texas, or Oklahoma, a small rural community. I remember refusing it because I said that I was as ignorant of that area of the country as I was of Florida, and that I frankly was not interested in it and that the distance, and the price too made it impossible for me to accept.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: I see.
KENNETH ADAMS: And if anything closer at hand could be given me I’d be very happy to accept.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: What effect would you say that this work had on your career as an artist?
KENNETH ADAMS: Well, that’s rather difficult. Certainly, it helped as through a terrific financial bind that was the depression. Certainly no one, not even artists much more well known than I was at that time were selling their paintings. There was simply no market for it. It was either quiet paintings entirely at that time, or accept commissions from the government. So that my feeling in relation to the program as it was set up, and the need of it, is that I have the very warmest feeling relation to the opportunities that were present there. Also it gave me an opportunity for the first time to work at murals, which I had never thought of doing prior to that, and certainly those two that I did for the government helped me in the one that I did for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and for the four that I executed for the library of the University of New Mexico.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: How did the murals that you did at the library here relate, if any, to the ones that were done by Willard Nash and Raymond Jonson? Did they at all?
KENNETH ADAMS: No, they did not. The murals that were done by Raymond Jonson and Willard Nash were done as a part of the Treasury art project program, and I might add that they were designed for the Carnegie Library, the gift of Carnegie Corporation to the University of New Mexico. Naturally, under the WPA the University got a contract to build a new library, and my murals were for the new library. I think it was discontinued before the murals were completed.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Oh. Well, there seemed to be some difficulty about it.
KENNETH ADAMS: Some of them were hung temporarily in the studio after it had been converted to the Art Department, and I recall seeing both Jonson’s and Willard Nash’s murals there, but they were hung more as easel paintings rather than murals. They never had a wall installation.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: When I had my interview with him (Mr. Jonson) we went into some detail about the execution of those murals and I just wondered if yours replaced his, or if it was a different hall.
KENNETH ADAMS: Yes, it was a completely different structure.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Well, in both cases it is called the University of New Mexico Library so I thought there might be some connection there. What would say were the reactions of your fellow artists to the Federal Art Project?
KENNETH ADAMS: I think they felt as I did. They were only too happy to eat and to have an opportunity to paint and eat, I might add. They didn’t have to go out and find some kind of employment. They were able to continue what their life’s work was, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they contemporary painters wouldn’t welcome such an opportunity again to work at a good wage, it you remember.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Yes, I do. I think that the PWAP project was under much more benign circumstances that the WPA because…
KENNETH ADAMS: Yes, I think so too. I might add that I very definitely feel that the program—even the one that continued under WPA—the government’s interest in the artists at the time had a very favorable reaction on the communities over the country as a whole. I recall western town, Topeka, Kansas—when I started taking painting lessons, private painting lessons, I was looked upon as perhaps just a little odd. That woman painted, and painted china and that sort of thing, but it was not a masculine occupation, painting. I think that consequently when I went back to the Art Students League and the Chicago Art Institute as a student, the artists community, such as Woodstock and Carmel, and so forth, it was a case of the artists more or less segregating themselves or feeling segregated from the general life of the communities, and I think that the government program of the Treasure Art Project, and the WPA, during the depression, did much to eliminate the idea that the artist is an odd guy. He seemed to be accepted from that time forward as apart of the community, just as the doctor, the baker, the carpenter or whatnot.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Yes.
KENNETH ADAMS: He wasn’t looked upon as an odd ball.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: What do you think these projects did as far as art appreciation was concerned?
KENNETH ADAMS: Well, that I wouldn’t be able to answer except they certainly brought the comities and the residents of the communities into contact with painting, in many instances for the first time. Today we do have artists’ communities, but the emphasis is not what it was back in, say, the ‘20s or earlier. The community of Taos, when I went there in 1924, had attained distinction because the painters there had achieved national and international reputations because of painting new material, you might say. Ant they were pretty much banded together for the simple reason that they felt the necessity for association with each other, and even in the community of Taos, at the time, they lived more or less apart socially from the commercial people, the druggist, the dry goods man, the butcher, and what-have-you. But that is all gone today. While Taos is known primarily as an art community, the social life of the community is gathered in from all of these various strata. It isn’t a case of just artists, artists, artists, at a dinner party. Rather today you find yourself associated with the lawyer, the grocer, and what-have-you, and I think it is all to the good.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: What effect do you think it had on the art market?
KENNETH ADAMS: That I wouldn’t know. You mean the selling of paintings?
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Yes, and whether it made people more conscious of art. The fact that this is what the artist in our community does, perhaps I could buy one of his paintings.
KENNETH ADAMS: My assumption would be that it had a salutary effect there. Certainly most painters, or anyone engaged in the fine arts, is the rare individual indeed that can survive by the sale of his work alone. I think that was brought out by George Biddle at the time that he got Roosevelt interested in the artists. It was George Biddle who got Roosevelt interested at the time of the Depression. I remember seeing an article then in which he said that only one painter in 1500 existed solely by the sale of his work. They all did commercial work, or they taught, and I don’t think the situation has improved at all today.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Oh, you don’t?
KENNETH ADAMS: No. In terms of living by the sale of work alone…
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Don’t you think the proportion is higher?
KENNETH ADAMS: I think the artists have expanded to the point that where there was one artist back in 1920, there are probably one hundred, and I say that without exaggeration, today in 1964.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: That could be true. Certainly in Santa Fe we are deluged by so-called artists.
KENNETH ADADMS: The, too the division between what is professional and what is amateur is hard to define today.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Particularly today with…
KENNETH ADAMS: There are no criteria by which to judge.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Well, as I said before, I’m not too sure that they should. I say that, realizing that the French do have a Minister of Art and that they do buy things from public funds but there are political implications there and I don’t see how any government program could be set up in which there would not be political implications. That is political favoritism, if you will.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Oh, yes.
KENNETH ADAMS: Of course, there is a certain amount of that today without a Minister of Arts, but I think that a Minister of Arts would simply magnify the situation.
SYLIVIA LOOMIS: I see. You think we are too political still? Apparently there was very little polecats per se that entered into it during the time of these Federal Art Projects.
KENNETH ADAMS: No, I don’t think there was. That is, you’d say, the speed with which the program had to be put into operation, and the need for that speed, probably made it impossible to do much maneuvering and “politicking” in order to achieve favoritism.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Well, I think maybe at the very top level there might have been some political interference from the people who got the top jobs because they worked for one party or another.
KENNETH ADAMS: Yes.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: But as it came to down to the needs of the artists themselves, there was no question as to what were their party affiliations. From what I can understand, I haven’t heard of any interference, but over a long term, why then it might become ingrained again, as it sometimes does.
KENNETH ADAMS: Of course, there again, as a painter, as an artist, and being loyal to the profession of the arts, I hate the idea of thinking that I do not approve of money, public moneys, government moneys, if you will, being allocated for the support of American artists. If there could be some scheme set up whereby the arts could be supported and that support extended primarily—basically—to the younger painters, why I think I would be very definitely for it.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: You would?
KENNETH ADAMS: Yes. Because certainly without support you are not going to get art. I don’t believe in the old theory that one has to be miserable to create at all. I think the reverse is the case. It isn’t that the artists want such an elaborate scale of living, but actually they deserve the scale of living, I think, comparable to that of any other craftsman or trade and certainly shouldn’t have to be on relief rolls. But there again, how does one judge who is the artists and who isn’t? Who deserves work and who is just riding the gravy train? I don’t know.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: It would be pretty hard to determine that.
KENNETH ADAMS: I am a little distressed today after 26 years of teaching at the University level that students can achieve a B.F.A. or B.A. in Art in four years and an M.A. with an additional two years of study. These degrees make them eligible to teach in secondary schools and also at colleges and universities. Many seek and attain teaching positions immediately after acquiring these degrees. I think that adequate preparation to teach painting requires experience that cannot possibly be had in a mere six years of study.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: I see. I do think that it is the practicing artist and the good artist who is the best teacher.
KENNETH ADAMS: That is my contention. People have remarked to me, “Well, he may be a fine painter and all that, but he is not a good teacher.” I am skeptical of that for the simple reason that I cannot conceive of a man achieving professional status in the field of painting, with all the practice and study that it entails, not being able to help a student with the skills and knowledge he has acquired. Yes, surely there are expectations, always, but I would say that a good painter ought to be able to teach painting, whether he has got academic degrees or not.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: An academic degree is not necessary for an art teacher.
KENNETH ADAMS: Not if he had a reputation in the professional field, and in order to achieve that reputation in the professional field it is going to take him a little more time in preparation in reaching that goal. That’s why I think that the best are going to come from the ranks of the professionals.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: I see. You were on this Treasury Department project for such a short time that I don’t know what you have any other comments you would live to make about that particular phase of your experience as an artist, or whether we have covered everything. Is there something else that you’d like to say?
KENNETH ADAMS: Well, I can’t think of anything, frankly. I would like to repeat again that certainly it was a boon to me at the time simply because it kept food on the table and gave me an opportunity to do the thing that I wanted to do, whereas I was down here teaching and hating it, you see, and feeling sorry for myself. I don’t know why—it looks silly to me today—but you know you can feel sorry for yourself awfully easily.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: How long were you away from teaching during that period?
KENNETH ADAMS: I came down here in 1933 and taught one semester. Then I went back to Taos and when I returned to Albuquerque it was on a Carnegie Corporation grant as Artist in Residence to the University of New Mexico, and the Carnegie Corporation at that time was interested in putting the artist on campuses with no teaching assignment, just to give them a studio and permit them to paint and let the students occasionally come in and see what the artist was doing, but my arrangement was a little different. It wasn’t a matter of the Carnegie Corporation, but it was with Dr. Zimmerman who was president of the University. He had a brand-new library that had four mural spaces that had been designed by John Gaw Meem and he wanted them filled, naturally. He had no money for it so….
SYLVIA LOOMIS: So you were elected?
KENNETH ADAMS: I was elected, and that was part of the bargain. He was going to get me a grant as Artist in Residence if I would paint those four murals. Ha ha ha ha.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Oh, I see. Then what happened after that? He left you alone?
KENNETH ADAMS: I was working on the murals. They were quite large—there were four big panels in the library. When I was working on those, one of the professors in the art department saw greener pastures at the University of Texas, and as this was just about two weeks before the autumn semester opened, and they had no opportunity nor time to engage anyone to take over his painting classes, they came to me. I might add that Dr. Zimmerman and I had been friends for a great many years and great fishing companions. Zimmerman asked me if I would take over this boy’s painting classes and I said that I would be happy to if it was agreeable with the Carnegie Corporation, for after all, I was on a grant from them. He had arranged that and a little stipend too for teaching. So that’s how I got into teaching. If anybody had said I would wind up as a Professor Emeritus of Art at the University of New Mexico, I’d say they had rocks in their heads, you know, because I’m a product of the professional school life. I had to leave high school and get into the Art Institute of Chicago and I couldn’t do it fast enough. In those days, literally, if you wanted to be a painter or if you wanted to be in commercial art, an illustrator, anything to do with the arts, you went to a professional school. You did not go to the university or college. I think the only one that I ever heard of at the time was Yale, the Yale Art School, connected with the university. But today the universities have literally rubbed out most of the professional schools.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Is that right?
KENNETH ADAMS: And I would argue certainly, if I had to do it over again I would definitely have gone after my college education, even if it was a Liberal Arts degree, and then taken my professional training. Ant that was what my father hoped I would do. But as a headstrong kid I couldn’t see it. Wait and devote all those years, you know—why, like would be over before I even got started!
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Well, when you are that young it seems as though you’ve got to do it right then.
KENNETH ADAMS: Ha ha. Yes.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Well, that was the way with me. I didn’t want to go to college. I wanted to go to art school and I went to Pratt Institute and…
KENNETH ADAMS: At eighteen, why you are old at thirty!
SYLVIA LOOMIS: You might just as well die.
KENNETH ADAMS: And time is so slow passing.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Not so now, is it?
KENNETH ADAMS: No, it isn’t.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Well, this has been very valuable and very interesting and we’re very grateful to you, Mr. Adams. Unless there is something else you would like to say—we still have some time on the tape.
KENNETH ADAMS: No, I think I’m content to leave it as it is.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: We are also very grateful for this correspondence that you have let us borrow to microfilm. We will return it to you along with the photographs of your murals. I don’t suppose you have any prints of these other works that you did, the Duran portrait?
KENNETH ADAMS: No, Cole has the only photograph. I do have a photograph of Juan Duran, the portrait, but he has it, or the Press has it, or the catalogue.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: I see. Was that by any chance in the catalogue?
KENNETH ADAMS: Yes, it is in the catalogue.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: I see. All right, fine, then we’ll have the picture of it there.
KENNETH ADAMS: Well, there were two—wait a minute, I know Juan Duran is in the catalogue but I thought possibly that the landscape was in the catalogue, but I guess not. Yes here…that was a study of it, incidentally. (Portrait)
SYLVIA LOOMIS: As long as we have a picture of it, that’s the important thing, because what we are trying to is find as many prints as possible of the work that was done during that period.
KENNETH ADAMS: I wonder if they are going to reproduce the landscape that I did? Oh, no…
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Do you know whether he has a photograph of that? Of the landscape?
KENNETH ADAMS: No, he wouldn’t have it. It wasn’t reproduced. No, there isn’t any other.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: This at least gives us something and it is very valuable to have these two prints of your murals, and these will all be returned to you.
KENNETH ADAMS: Well, I do want them back for the simple reason that it is the record I have.
SYLVIA LOOMIS: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Adams.
END OF INTERVIEW
This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Kenneth M. Adams, 1964 Apr. 23, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.