Masters: Hank Murta Adams

Masters: Hank Murta Adams

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Hank Murta Adams

Hank Murta Adams

Chris Crisman

If you’re looking for Hank Murta Adams, try out back at WheatonArts, where the artist has an Airstream parked near a brick patio strung with festive lights. Since 2003, he has been pouring his energy into this 65-acre arts complex in Millville, New Jersey, serving as its glass studio creative director. Under his watch, Wheaton has reimagined and expanded residencies, and produced innovative exhibitions – growing its influence and community.

“The downside about being part of a community: It needs, and it needs, and it needs,” Adams observes good-naturedly. But community has also always been part of his practice, a necessary counterbalance to the solitude of the creative process. It’s what initially drew Adams, studying painting at Rhode Island School of Design in the 1970s, into glass. Hungering for physicality and dimensionality, he’d already begun doing sculptural work. Glass offered more.

Dale Chihuly, who ran the program, had fostered “this incredible lore of community,” Adams recalls. “It was really about this familial learning – this community of learning.”

But while connections sustain Adams, his work embodies a fierce independence. Merely one example, his large-scale, figurative busts – kiln-cast, crusted with wire, pocked with debris – upended glass-making tradition (to say nothing of classical sculpture), establishing Adams early on as an open-minded risk taker, an innovator, and an unmistakably individual voice.

Recently, he lent that iconoclastic spirit to a major project at Wheaton: “Emanation: Art + Process” opened in May 2015 and ran through early January. It was the culmination of a yearlong invitational initiative, where 11 artists, including Mark Dion and Judy Pfaff, came to the campus, and conceived and created work with the staff. The Wheaton crew then fabricated, finished, culled, and installed the work. “It created a very different power structure,” Adams explains. Instead of a curator selecting pieces, artists were picked – and the work flowed out of the communal, on-site experience. “I think it’s very honest to what the institution is and has been doing,” Adams says proudly.

Many mentors: Before RISD and Chihuly, Adams studied with Claude Falcone – a Philadelphia-area high school teacher legendary for his rigorous approach to art and design. “He didn’t just change my life,” Adams says. “He changed many lives.”

On teaching: “You have to serve your own curiosity. When I’ve been the best teacher is when I’ve learned alongside students.”

The long view: When Adams came to Wheaton 12 years ago, he had to step back from a successful solo practice. He doesn’t see it as a trade-off. “I matured in my view of what creativity entails,” he says. “I came here to try to engage in a different way and give in a different way.” 

Read more about the 2016 American Craft Council Awards and winners.