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Wild Wings: The Waterfowl Art of Harry Curieux Adamson

November 9, 2002 - March 30, 2003


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. (left: Harry Curieux Adamson, Winter Sorcery-Pintails, 1968, oil on board, 24 x 36 inches)

The undisputed master of wildfowl on the wing, Harry Adamson, is the subject of an exhibition opening November 9, 2002 at the Oakland Museum of California. 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.

The exhibition 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." (left: Harry Curieux Adamson, Klamath Basin-Pintails, 1994, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches)

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."(left: Harry Curieux Adamson, Evening in the Great Basin - Widgeon, 1959, oil on canvas, 20 x 25 inches)

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.

Wild Wings: The Waterfowl Art of Harry Curieux Adamson was developed by the Natural Sciences Department of the Oakland Museum of California with the assistance of Harry and Betty Adamson and Diane Inman, author of the recent 227-page full-color book From Marsh to Mountain: The Art of Harry Curieux Adamson (1999). Curator of the exhibition is Tom Steller, chief curator of Natural Sciences at the museum.


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