Lee Adams: "...portraits of fruits which talk..."

Lee Adams at work during the 1945 mango season at The Kampong.  He painted approximately twenty mango watercolor "portraits" which quickly became popular among Dr. Fairchild's friends and acquaintances.  At this time, we are unaware of the location(s) of all but one.

Lee Adams

"... Portraits of Fruits which talk..."

By Janet Mosely

[from Mosely, J. 2008. From the Archive. The Tropical Garden 63(3) 44.]

In 1945 David Fairchild was introduced to Lee Adams, then a young botany student with a strong artistic bent.  Dr. Fairchild was impressed by his artwork, considering it botanically correct as well as aesthetically pleasing. "Here is the man to do for tropical fruits what Audubon did for the birds."  Being a great believer in mentoring young talent, Dr. Fairchild took Adams under his wing. 

Dr. Fairchild had long looked for an effective way to introduce tropical fruit to the American market.  He felt photographs were inadequate and had decided that no one, including himself, could describe unknown fruit in such a way as to interest the uninitiated.  He was thrilled to have found in Adams "…one who is able to draw in the Audubon style and make portraits of fruits which talk…living plant pictures such as I have been longing to see for years and never seen." He took to calling him "…my young friend Lee Adams the plant portrait painter'.

In that eventful year, 1945, Adams stayed as a guest at The Kampong during mango season; and, under Dr. Fairchild's helpful tutelage, studied and painted a series of mango watercolors. Dr. Fairchild then sent him to Casa Antigua, Wilson Popenoe's home in Guatemala, and on to Lancetilla in Honduras to study and paint the many fruits of those regions.  The work paid off.

"And painting!  You have no idea what I have learned.  It is becoming easier.  I find that my hands know what they are doing now whereas before-they tried, failed many times, and occasionally succeeded.  Mastery is coming, let us hope."  (Letter to D. Fairchild from L. Adams, October, 1945.)

Afraid he might miss the earlier than usual mango season of 1945, Adams bought a mango from a North Florida grocery and sent this image to Dr. Fairchild.  May 30, 1945.
[Click on thumbnail for better image]

Long before Adams painted Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden's palm series, he found his vision and perfected his craft under Dr. Fairchild's expert guidance.  This watercolor of a Kent mango, also in the garden's collection, is most probably part of the mango series done at The Kampong in 1945. 

Mastery did come.  Adams' botanic and artistic talents blossomed under Dr. Fairchild's guidance. During his trips to Miami, Guatemala and Honduras he developed a firm vision of his life's work, his craft matured and he developed the watercolor techniques he would use throughout his successful painting career.

The charming and highly readable correspondence between Lee Adams and Dr. Fairchild is in the Bertram Zuckerman Archive at the Center for Tropical Plant Conservation.  Contact Nancy Korber for visitation information at nkorber@fairchildgarden.org.







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Please contact:
Nancy Korber
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Center for Tropical Plant Conservation
11935 Old Cutler Road
Miami, Florida 33156 USA
tel. 305/667-1651, ext. 3424
fax 305/665-8032