Above, Beach Park artist Morgan Adams with a watercolor of horse heads she is working on. – Jeni Ensslin/theYOUjournal
by Tina Johansson
One look at the paintings by Morgan Adams of Beach Park and you will believe this to be the work of a seasoned artist.
Truth be told, Adams, 37, has only been painting with watercolors for two years this month.
She credits accomplished artist Mark Hoffman, owner of Dinosaur Tattoo & Art Gallery in Waukegan, for encouraging her to give it a try.
“He told me, ‘Watercolors are the hardest medium to work with.’ So that’s exactly why I did it,” she said fearlessly, recalling the date as August of 2014.
The self-taught artist who had previously only worked with colored pencils, has somehow been able to transform hard paint and wet paper into something that is both mesmerizing, peaceful and nothing short of amazing.
Regularly painting animals, Adams is a self-described animal-lover whom at home enjoys the company of several small pets including her beloved cats and dogs.
“I am very much an animal-enthusiast,” she said, adding that her home is open to foster animals at all times.
“I was an outcast as a young person, so I have a connection with animals, particularly the ones people have given up on. I feel that they give so much more than most humans do. While in your darkest hours, animals can be your best friends.”
Enter Patrick, a two year old, gray pit bull she adopted from rescue organization Peace for Pits in Chicago. “He was a foster-failure,” said the artist. “They all told me, ‘No one has been able to handle him.’” Somehow, though, Adams was.
Patrick was set to be euthanized on a Sunday, and Adams got him the following Wednesday.
“He has been the best dog in the world,” said the artist, explaining among his qualities, Patrick has been credited with saving her life. As do people suffering from narcolepsy on occasion, Adams fell and hit her head. The dog barked and barked and kept her from going out of consciousness. Other times when she takes a spin, the dog will help her back on her feet by giving her support to get up off the floor.
Patrick is so popular, he has his own Facebook page — Patrick the Pibble. “He has far more friends on Facebook than I do,” said Adams.
Peyton, a four year old tan and white pit bull was adopted by Adams from Chicago Pit Stop. “Peyton was a court case dog. Both she and her brother were confiscated,” the artist explained.
Adam’s own work often depicted on her Facebook page shows her thoughtful watercolors. As a child she enjoyed drawing wolves and wildlife, she said.
Canines, often pit bulls, are another animal she likes to paint, and does it often for Waukegan Animals Getting Saved, a local rescue organization.
Once Lemon Street Gallery in Kenosha started displaying and selling her work for her, it was a turning point with her craft, she said.
Her mode of operation is always to start with the eyes. “If you can see the eyes of the animal, then you can get into their headspace. And then you can paint what their feelings are,” she said.
“I get a mix of emotions when I paint. Sometimes I can’t believe I did the work myself. And I also am awed by how many people like my work.”
The Early Days
Adams embraced art at an early age, she said, in part because it helped her work through her feelings of being an outcast growing up. Art became her best friend, and she excelled in it in grade school, often painting wolves and horses. And while others would admire them, Adams was somehow shy about her works. She even kept her art and art awards hidden from her family, she said.
She was born in Mississippi and grew up in Lake Bluff, raised by a woman who was not her biological mother. Adams said she often felt like the red-headed step child with her family.
“I was kind of the Cinderella,” she recalls.
She graduated from Lake Forest High School, and in her mid-20s Adams began serving in the Air Force reserves where she graduated from boot camp in the top 12 percent of her class. “I was a flight medic,” she said about her two-year service.
Once dreaming of becoming a doctor, Adams geared herself up to becoming a semi-pro body builder instead. She has been a bookkeeper for a local insurance company; and most recently was assistant to the vice president of finance for the Uline company. She had that job for seven years until a rare neurological disorder – narcolepsy – she was diagnosed with, proved too much to handle.
“When I finally realized I could never work again, I thought, ‘I will be an artist at home,’” said Adams.
Through the Midwest Artist Initiative, Adams was selected from 100 artists to paint a bench in Highwood, which is among others displayed throughout the town.
“It’s very fast for how this is happening,” she said, while getting ready to expand her studio into her garage. “It’s kind of like winning the lottery, but all of a sudden I am painting these pictures that people really like.”
Her advice to people: “Never give up. I’m 37 now and finally being recognized as an artist. For everything I’ve been through, people are really surprised.”
Order a Pizza, get a Husband
Earlier this year, the artist married Lars Adams, a single father of three. She jokes that she married the pizza guy.
“It’s true. I know this sounds funny, but he was delivering pizzas for Papa John’s and he came to my house. We looked at each other and instantly we fell in love,” she said.
As if meeting and falling for the pizza man isn’t unusual enough, the artist and her fiancé tied the knot on Leap Year – February 29 – in the Volo Bog. “I wore rain boots and we were married by his father, a pastor in Evanston,” said Adams.
As the couple recited their vows, a flock of Sandhill cranes suddenly swooped down in an apparent good luck prophecy. “It was like we were destined to be together. It was meant to be.”
“My painting went to the whole new level after I met him,” she said of her husband.
The artist is having fun with her new family including children ages 5, 7 and 9. “They are so wonderful,” she said.
Her husband, whom she describes as “incredibly handsome,” is now a locksmith, and also happens to be well-versed in the history of Pre-Columbian Indians.
Mr. Adams also has a mild form of turrets syndrome, said the artist. “We have two of the rarest diseases and we tease each other about it. He understands what it’s like being different. We are a match made in heaven.
As for her paintings, she said, “I don’t know what I’m capable of, or where I am on the scale as far as my talent is concerned; but I do love being pushed to the next level.”
“Ten years from now I see myself being a successful artist. I am that person you’ve read about. I am that person who nobody believes it would happen to. I have gotten to live that epic journey.”