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6:11 PM Wed, Sept. 19th

In accident's wake, Prescott artist still reaches for beauty

An example of Hermon Adams' romantic realism style is his almost life-size painting, "Light at the Top of the Stairs."

Not only did he crack his right hip in the tumble, Adams broke his right arm in two places and crushed his elbow – the most devastating of news for a right-handed artist.

Now, Adams' right arm contains 13 screws, a plate, a bone implant, a ligament implant and a cadaver's elbow ("I asked them not to give me one from someone who played tennis," he joked). He also has an almost shoulder-to-wrist scar where more than 100 staples closed his wound.

Luckily for Adams, he seemed to be a bit ambidextrous all along and now paints primarily – and adeptly – with his left hand.

"He never said he'd never paint again," said his wife, Sheila. "I guess he'd paint with his feet if he had to. That's just the way he is.

Tentative at first about such a change, Adams eventually found that his left hand served him as well as his right had for so many years.

"My first left-arm piece sold in 20 minutes – before the paint was even dry," he said, adding that he thought he should have been left-handed from the beginning.

"I wanted to bat and shoot left-handed (as a child), but was trained away from it," he said.

As much as anything, it is perhaps a certain doggedness that keeps Adams painting.

"Persistence is the most important thing an artist, or anybody else, can have," he said, pooh-poohing natural talent.

"My kindergarten work looked every bit as bad as everybody else's," Adams laughed, a twinkle lighting his lapis lazuli blue eyes.

And he kept painting.

"Blindness to faults helps. Looking back, I see how bad it was," he says of his early work.

That persistence he so believes in has paid off.

Now a highly acclaimed artist, Adams paints from 11 a.m. to midnight every day (with his left hand) and never wearies from his chosen work.

"No one's telling me to do this – I enjoy the work," he said. "If I didn't like painting, I would quit."

The walls of Adams' gallery are filled with his own work – elegant horses with wildly draping manes and tails, Indian braves with roaming wolves for companions, mermaids, fairies, Merlin the Magician and landscapes touched with soaring eagles and dramatic sunsets – all subjects in Adams' romantic realism style.

Using a vivid imagination and keen powers of observation, Adams finds beauty and magic in the subjects he paints.

In brilliant, clear colors with painstaking detail, Adams depicts subjects that intrigue him: horses, Indians, woods and wilderness, classic art and mythology.

"You can always see the artist's stories in his paintings," he said. "Every artist projects his own emotions into his paintings."

Adams' artistic penchants are clear from his own history.

Born in the small town of Raymond, Miss., Adams was raised around horses, riding his grandmother's at age 3 and buying his own at 15.

His first painting was of a palomino.

"It was the love of horses that started me painting," he said. "They represent freedom. I've ridden bicycles, cars, motorcycles and flown planes – but the closest thing to flying is riding a horse."

Adams also grew up in his grandmother's Victorian house, which was full of classical art that had a profound effect upon him, as did foraging at the local library, where he became acquainted with the works of the great illustrators.

As well, he was a Boy Scout who loved the out-of-doors, and was an avid reader who consumed mythology.

Adams' paintings are also filled with Indians – though they appear to come mostly from an artist's passion for shape, rather than from his past.

"I like to paint Indians because they don't have many clothes on, and their human figure is more visible," he said.

He paints other things for that reason, too.

"Both horses and women have a lot of rounded curves – they're beautiful," he said.

One of Adams' favorite models is his wife Sheila, to whom he has been married for more than 34 years.

Adams graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in advertising design, and for many years did photography and other work. But in 1976, he decided to paint full-time.

In 1981, he, Sheila, and their two young sons moved from back east to Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he owned his first art gallery – "a dream of Hermon's," Sheila said – then moved to Prescott three years later.

"I had to come out West – that's where the horses and Indians were," he said.

Contact Sandy Moss at smoss@prescottaz.com