John Adams and His Medieval Art
THE LONE HERALD John Adams Lives His Medieval Art By Warren D. Jorgensen As the sun rises over the Chesapeake Bay, John Adams sits in his studio behind his house in Annapolis, Md. The air conditioner hums softly and the blues from his sound system fill the air as he bends over his bench over a 34” X 45” cold rolled eighteen-gauge medieval shield.
Brush in hand he meticulously adds detail to the charge—a lion rampant, Argent, set on a blazon, gule, of the Scottish Wallace line, one the most popular requests he gets. The lines of the company, counter company of the last and azure that will be the border fill out the field. John is immersed in an art dating back to the twelfth century, in his art, in his heart, and in his head.
He is a graphic artist specializing in the arcane art of the Herald, possibly the only one in America; creating works of art for Americans who want a connection to their family heritage. With his wife Karen he is bringing this medieval art to Americans using twenty first century technology. “Heraldry is where art and history meet,” he says, putting down his brush. “I’m painting a coat of arms that was carried by a knight nine hundred years ago for a twenty first century descendant of that family line. I find something very comforting in that ”.
“His artistry is better than some I’ve seen done by the British professionals” says Tom Mac Intyre, a lawyer for the Department of defense, third generation American and one of the millions of Americans seeking out his lineage. He met John at a Celtic festival, commissioned him to paint his clan Mac Intyre shield www.macintyreclan.org for his living room wall. It was in the twelfth century, the age of chivalry that formalized coats of arms came into widespread usage. The practice began in France and quickly spread to all of the European monarchies. Legend has it that emblazoned shields identified armor-clad knights in battle.
A coat of arms was patriarchic personal property, handed down from generation to generation within a family. Heralds were the creators and keepers of those designs. They set the rules, kept the records of who was who, and created coding and a lexicon to describe their art. The practice continued throughout the middle ages. Despite the fact that many of our founding fathers had English lineage and coats of arms, the practice ended in America in 1776. “It’s simple. They—coats of arms--are very un-American,” john says. You cannot have a symbol representing entitlement at birth in a country where every man is created equal”.
AMERICA’S EUROPEAN HERITAGE Tom Mac Intyre offers a pretty general view of the increasing American interest in their lineage: “The first generations—those who immigrated here—wanted nothing to do with the old country. That’s why they left. The second generation--or first born Americans—could care less and were simply trying to get ahead. By the third generation, they become interested in where they came from”, he says. “But we only look at the positive elements”, explaining the tendency to look at history through rose colored glasses.
John’s introduction to this arcane art was serendipitous: A graphic artist with an interest in medieval history, he was approached twelve years ago by an armorer at the Maryland Renaissance Faire who wanted him to paint a shield. He was handed a shield and a book with black and white coded designs created by Heralds centuries ago. “It was something that no one else in this country was doing”, he says.
He was hooked. Today he has dozens of volumes listing names and their coats of arms; many from countries and principalities that no longer exist. “I have a half million names from more than fifty countries”, he says explaining his compilation of accurate listings. He has spent thousands of hours mastering the heraldic lexicon and the codes created by the medieval heralds, still in use today, “He is one of the few people who has studied the field and makes a serious effort to make sure what he is doing is correct”, says Mac Intyre The painting is painstakingly slow and labor intensive.
Depending on the intricacies of the design, completion can take weeks or even months as each layer of detail is added. First, the field, or base coat is applied, and allowed to dry or cure for as long as several weeks. A bend, pale, fess, chevron, or any of the seven “ordinaries”—if called for--is then be added and again allowed to cure. Each addition to the design is meticulously hand painted and cured in stages until completion.
At any given time he has twenty to thirty shields in various stages of completion. Many are wedding shields, such as his own and Karen’s combined Adams/Littel shield; an example of the heraldic art which he describes in “Heraldspeak”, always read clockwise from upper left. “First and third quarter, gule; a heart between three cross-cross lay fitchees, or” for the yellow heart and three crosses on the red field in the upper left and lower right of the shield. “Second and fourth, per chevron, argent and sable in chief; three fleur de liz’ of the second. In base, a castle tower of the first”, for Littel’s arms, white above, black below with three black fleuer de liz above and the castle in white below.
The heart symbolizes good heartedness, the castle strength. Like all heraldry, everything has meaning and it makes them a team They have been friends since 1987 when she hired him to work for her print shop. Married in 2000, he introduced her to Heraldry, she introduced him to the twenty first century, bringing her extensive graphic and computer skills to the table. “I saw a display of really cute little computer generated prints at a show, ” she says “When I got close, they were horrible. I told John that we could do better than that” and they have.
They work alone together separately, he in his studio, she at her monitor. While John is buried deep in the mists of time, she scans his detailed renditions layer by layer, creating an affordable digital print that has become a bread and butter item for them. But it is more than business: It is his art and his heart. “Most Americans whose family line dates back to Europe would like dream that their ancestors were something other than horse thieves”, he says. “We try as hard as we can to make those dreams real” Samples of John’s work can be viewed at www.rampanliondesigns.com “ “
Tags: Maryland , Art , Heraldry , Artist , Rampant Lion
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