Theodore Clement Steele, American, 1847–1926
Oil on canvas
104.14 cm x 93.98 cm | 41 in x 37 in
No Signature or date
By permission, David Owsley Museum of Art, Ball State University
Gift of sons: John Alban Adams, 1900, Edward Wolfe Adams 1902, Robert Brady Adams 1904
T.C. Steele painted this portrait about 1900 of his friend and colleague J. Ottis Adams (1851-1927).
Steele and Adams, along with fellow Indiana painters William Forsyth, Otto Stark and Richard Gruelle, comprised the “Hoosier Group” during the period 1880 – 1915.
Adams was also among the group that formed the Society of Western Artists in 1896, and served as the organization’s president in 1908 and 1909. Other founders were T.C. Steele, William Forsyth, John Elwood Bundy and 14 other artists. The society’s sixth annual exhibition was held March 4-20, 1902 at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1869, at 18 years old he visited the Indiana State Fair where he saw Still Life with Watermelon, an early work by William Merritt Chase (1849 – 1916), now in the collection of Birmingham Museum of Art. This painting inspired him to pursue becoming an artist and with limited funds, he enrolled at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana where he studied for two years.
Adams left Indiana in 1872 to study at the South Kensington School of Art in London. In 1873, he was awarded a certificate from the school and remained in London to study under the tutelage of John Parker,¹ Adams returned to the United States in late 1874 to begin his career as a painter and art educator.
J. Ottis Adams married Winifred Brady, on October 1, 1898. An accomplished artist herself, she was a still-life painter and one of his former students in Muncie, Indiana. They had three sons, John Alban Adams, 1900, Edward Wolfe Adams 1902, Robert Brady Adams 1904 who donated this T.C. Steele portrait of their father to Ball State University Art Museum.
Adams spent seven years studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich with other American artists including Indiana artists T. C. Steele and William Forsyth. Adams returned to Muncie, Indiana in 1887 and in 1889 he and William Forsyth formed the Muncie Art School and served as the instructors.
Adams spent the fall of 1896 with T.C. Steele and other painters at Metamora, Indiana in an area known as the Whitewater Valley. In 1898 Adams and Steele bought property with a home near Brookville, Indiana on the eastern fork of the Whitewater River. This area would become a popular area for both artists to paint landscapes.
The home which sits on 6.6 acres was renovated with separate studios and living quarters for both artists. Steele’s studio on the south end and Adams on the north end. Steele’s wife Mary Elizabeth (Libbie) named the home Hermitage. This summer home was used by both the Steele and Adams families from 1898 to 1907. Steele lost his wife Libbie to tuberculosis in 1899 and later sold his interest to Adams in 1907.
The artists intended the Hermitage to be a summer retreat, but Adams married Winifred Brady in 1898, and the Hermitage became a permanent home for J. Ottis and Winifred Adams. After Steele sold his interest to Adams, Winifred Adams, also an accomplished artist, ended up using Steele’s studio after he moved.
The Adamses had many visitors at their Brookville home. Another member of the Hoosier School, Otto Stark, was a frequent guest. J. Ottis Adams also ran an art school from the house for several years. He lived there off and on until his death in 1927. Winifred split her time between the Hermitage and Indianapolis until her death in 1945.²
Much of the 19-room home contains artifacts, furniture and original architectural features. The studios of Steele and Adams are largely unchanged in design since the period the artists painted in these rooms. The house library of J. Ottis Adams still contains the books he and his wife Winifred collected and they remain in their places in the built-in bookcases to this day.
LEFT: Library at the Hermitage with original artifacts, furniture and books of J. Ottis and Winifred Adams. Photo taken 2021. RIGHT: The Library at the Hermitage by J. Otis Adams, c. 1905, oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. & Mrs. David Gibbons to Wabash College Elston Homestead.
The above painting by Adams (c. 1905) showcases Winifred Adams standing in the middle of the library room of the Hermitage dressed in a beautiful green blue dress, mostly likely in conversation with T.C. Steele’s first wife, Mary Elizabeth (Lakin) Steele. John Alban Adams, the eldest of the three Adams children, is sitting to the side studying the objects and books on the library shelf.
J. Ottis Adams (1851-1927) and his wife Winifred Brady Adams (1871-1955) are buried at Beech Grove Cemetery, Muncie, Indiana (sect A).
Steele’s portrait of J. Ottis Adams is in the collection of the David Owsley Museum of Art at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana which includes the thirteen paintings by T.C. Steele listed below. These paintings represent three genres: portrait, landscape, still life.
- Portrait Study, signed / 1884
- Tennessee Mountain Land, signed / 1899
- Path Through the Woods, signed / 1900
- Portrait of John Ottis Adams, about 1900
- Untitled (landscape with houses), 1904
- Frosty Morning – Brookville, signed / 1905
- A Summer Day, signed / 1906
- Edge of the Field (a.k.a. Summer Pasture), signed / 1918
- Vase of Flowers, signed / 1919
- Afternoon in Late Autumn, signed / c. 1920-1922
- Peonies in a Dark Red Bowl, signed / 1923
- Untitled (Landscape, road on a hill) / n.d.
- Untitled (Landscape, cow on road) / n.d.
Special thanks to the David Owsley Museum of Art, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana.
¹ Samuel Redgrave: Dictionary of Artists of the English School. George Bell & Sons, London 1878, pg.320.
² Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, “The Hermitage,”Discover Indiana, accessed December 25, 2020, https://publichistory.iupui.edu/items/show/238.