A plein air painter's kind of town: Adam Emory Albright in Warrenville
Adam Emory Albright was well known in the early half of the 20th century for his plein air painting of children in rural scenes. Adam passed along his artistic talents to his twin sons, Ivan and Malvin; Ivan would surpass his father’s renown when the 1945 MGM movie “The Picture of Dorian Gray” featured Ivan’s work. Adam was happy to live out his years in Warrenville, painting in the rural environment that defined his work and brought him success.
The roots of the artistry in the Albright family came from their craftsmen ancestors who immigrated to the United States from Germany. Coming to the United States around 1750, the Albrights became master gunsmiths and carvers on the east coast. Adam’s father, Zachariah, was artistic as well, but preferred drawing, a type of art not accepted by the family. Instead of becoming a craftsman, Adam’s father, took his family west to make a new life on open farmland. Adam was born on August 15, 1862, in Monroe, Wisconsin, as his parents searched for a location to make a home. He was the eleventh child born to the struggling couple.
Adam grew up in poverty as his parents moved from farm to farm, eventually settling in northeastern Iowa, near New Hampton. As a young man, Adam worked any odd-job neighbors and farmers in the area would give him to help support his family. He quickly learned that manual labor was not for him and he vowed to make a career of being an artist. His father, Zachariah, knew what it was like to have disapproving parents, and vowed to support Adam’s dream as best he could. Adam left home at the age of eighteen, determined to foster the artistic gifts that he had been practicing since he was a small child drawing farmhouses and barns.
Adam studied for two years at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts (the early precursor to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he learned under the tutelage of famous painter Thomas Eakins. He then headed across the Atlantic Ocean to study in Europe and worked as a portrait artist.
In 1888, Adam returned to the United States and married Clara Wilson, a childhood friend, on Christmas Eve in St. Louis. The newlyweds headed to Chicago and Adam took up a studio in downtown Chicago and began painting city scenes of newsboys and portraits.
The couple became parents when their first son, Lisle Murillo, was born in 1891. The identical twins, Ivan Le Lorraine and Malvin Marr, would soon follow in 1893. All three boys received middle names after artists who had inspired Adam in his early career. Adam began teaching the boys to paint when they were small and incorporated them into his work, using them as models practically from the day they were born.
During the time that Adam was growing his family, his style evolved as he began to focus more and more on painting outdoor, rural scenes that depicted childhood on the open prairie or farmland. Inspired by the impressionistic style that he witnessed at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, Adam began to be well-known for his paintings of idyllic children. His work was soon featured in exhibitions throughout the United States.
To foster his career, Adam built his own log cabin on the northside of Chicago in Hubbard Woods with a glass studio on the side of the structure. The glass studio provided such an idyllic place to paint outdoor scenery without the worry of bad northern Illinois weather that he even built himself a mobile glass studio that neighbors often saw him carting around to different locations. Adam also took seasonal painting trips, taking his family along within him to locations throughout the United States, Great Britain and South America.
In 1924 Adam moved the family to Warrenville, a community that he had stumbled upon during a painting excursion. Adam was taken by the citizens of Warrenville, stating that they were "real people" and feeling a strong desire to live among the town's kind and unassuming residents. Adam was also drawn to the ruralness of the community, appreciating its dirt roads, open fields, and calm surroundings. Wanting his adopted home to keep its “country-feel,” Adam was a staunch opponent to those who pushed for the community to incorporate.
Adam utilized many local children as models, always ensuring they were dressed in clothes that fit the pastoral scene. He painted along the DuPage River, which ran behind his studio, the abandoned 1858 Methodist Church. Many local Warrenville residents were fond of Adam's work and collected his paintings. Like all supporters of Adam's later work, patrons could not purchase Adam's paintings outright, but "rented" them by paying a fee each month until the artist's death. For those who bet against him, he lived to be 95! Adam, a prolific painter, painted right up until his death on September 13, 1957. Adam’s original works remain on display in the community at the Warrenville Public Library, the Warrenville City Hall and at the former Albright Studio, which houses the Warrenville Historical Museum. The 2019 plein air competition “Paint the ‘Ville” is inspired by the artistic heritage established and fostered in Warrenville by Adam.