Study Head (Old Woman)

John Ottis Adams (American, 1851-1927)

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J. Ottis Adams was born in Amity, Indiana and settled with his family in Shelbyville, Indiana. The young Adams was fascinated with art and spent much of his time drawing. He enrolled in Wabash College but left a year later to study art at the South Kensington School in London where he came under the influence of John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner, whose landscapes were of particular interest to Adams. He returned to Indiana and settled in Muncie. In 1880, Adams traveled to Munich to study at the Royal Academy with fellow Indiana artists Theodore Clement Steele and Samuel Richards. Adams studied drawing and painting at the Academy and then set up his own studio in Munich. When he returned to Indiana in 1887, Adams set up a studio in Muncie and began teaching art classes. In 1889, he and fellow artist William Forsyth opened the Muncie Art School, which lasted two years. Adams participated in a group show of Hoosier artists that traveled from Indianapolis to Chicago. A critic dubbed the artists in the exhibition The Hoosier Group. Two years later, Adams, Forsyth and Steele along with other artists in the area, formed the Society of Western Artists, the first organization dedicated to promoting the work of the region's artists. In 1898, Adams and T. C. Steele purchased a house in Brookville, Indiana later known as the Hermitage. In 1901, Adams became one of the first teachers at the newly built John Herron Art Institute where he taught from 1902 to 1906. During the latter part of his life, Adams worked in Florida and Michigan as well as Brookville.

In the chaotic sessions at the Royal Academy it was not unusual to find as many as fifteen students crowded around one model. Forsyth described conditions in Löfftz's painting class: “This lower room of ours is very crowded, numbering in all about thirty pupils most of them new…All new men go to the lower school, and if a man makes progress, or is a “favorite” he is promoted to the upper school….” training helped prepare his students for the portrait commissions that would sustain most of them once they returned home.

These sessions invariably included painting study heads of the local people who served as models at the Academy. The more distinctive features they possessed the more likely they were to be asked to model. In this case the expressive lines in the sitters face were perfect for a portrait painting exercise.


Wilbur David Peat. Pioneer Painters of Indiana, Indianapolis: Art Association of Indianapolis, Indiana, 1954. ASIN: B0007DFBR2

Object Information

John Ottis Adams (American, 1851-1927)
creation date
oil on canvas
22-1/4 x 18 in. (canvas)
24-7/8 x 21 x 2-1/4 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Gift of the Sons of J. Ottis Adams
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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