Wayman Adams, portrait artist, son of Nelson Perry and Mary Elizabeth (Justice) Adams, was born in Muncie, Indiana, on September 23, 1883. His father, a farmer and amateur painter, died when Adams was young, and the youth received no formal education beyond the sixth grade. His artistic ability was recognized early. At twelve he won first prize at the Indiana State Fair, and at sixteen he received his first portrait commission, to paint a picture of a prize heifer for five dollars. He first studied painting at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis under William Forsyth. At the urging of Booth Tarkington he went to New York and studied at the Grand Central Art School. He also studied under Robert Henri in Spain and William Merritt Chase in Italy. In 1914 he won his first major award, the Thomas R. Proctor Prize of the National Academy of Design in New York. On October 1, 1918, Adams married Margaret Graham Burroughs, another student of Chase in Italy; they had one son.
Adams was considered one of America's leading portrait painters long before he established permanent residence in Austin, Texas, in 1948. He had exhibited at the National Academy of Design (1914, 1926, 1932), the Art Institute of Chicago (1918), the American Watercolor Society (1930), the Salmagundi Club (1931, 1940), the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1929, 1933), the Carnegie Institute (1943), the Hoosier Salon (1925–26, 1929, 1931, 1935), and many other institutions. He maintained a studio in New York City for most of the years of his career.
His first sizable commission was a portrait of Booth Tarkington. He subsequently painted such notables as presidents Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover, Vice President Henry Wallace, generals Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright and Walter Krueger, industrialist B. F. Goodrich, Col. Edward M. House, Clara Driscoll, golfer Bobby Jones, Texas governors Beauford Jester and Allan Shivers, and J. Frank Dobie. One of his best-known works, a portrait of the Russian cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, won a $1,000 prize when it was exhibited in the 1943 Painting in the United States exhibition held at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. Adams worked in a fluid style heavily influenced by the bravura technique of his teacher William Merritt Chase. He finished portraits in one or two days, depending on their size. He preferred oil paints, but occasionally worked in watercolors.
He taught at the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York, the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, and a school and art colony in Elizabethtown, New York, that he and his wife established. In 1935 and 1936 he conducted an art school in Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico. He received an honorary doctor of arts degree at Syracuse University in 1943. He was a member of the National Academy of Design, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the New York Society of Painters, the National Association of Portrait Painters, the American Water Color Society, the Allied Artists of America, the Salmagundi Club, and the Texas Fine Arts Association. Adams and his wife lived from 1948 to 1959 in Austin, where their home became a magnet for artists and authors. Adams died of a heart attack on April 7, 1959. His work is represented in the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Yale University Art Gallery, the San Antonio Museum Association, the Texas State Library, and other institutions.