Peter Adams, with his great blue eyes, is living life more intensely than the rest of us. He's passionate about art, passionate about travel, passionate about history and people, passionate about spiders.
Chat with him and he takes the paintings off the walls, digs in his archives to find a Bouguereau print, tells of his escapades in 1981 as the first American artist to travel unescorted after China reopened, and his trip a year ago to Afghanistan, where he painted and visited wounded moujahedeen.
Interpersed is the tale of his excursion down an Afghanistan well to retrieve a cat. He also writes sonnets.
As a guest ambles through his home and studio on an oak and ivy bluff in Pasadena, he throws open closets and models his Far Eastern costumes collection. And when he finds a spider on a Russian fur cap, he cradles it in his palm, opens a window and blows it to the wind.
One painting of his is a Bhutan fort. Another a Mandarin emblem, another a rosewood lamp. The dozens of embroidered pillowcases are Indian. And the Tibetan singing bowls require a demonstration: He carefully holds one, rubs it round and round, faster and faster, and the bowl hums. In the kitchen, he brings out fresh juices to thwart the hot day and the lack of air conditioning. And those four dogs on the back porch wagging their tails--they're the ones he runs with every other day on Millard Canyon trails.
Peter Adams, tall and 38, is a novelty, a tender eccentric. Right now, to his milieu, he's added the chairmanship of the Festival of the Autumn Moon benefit for the Pacific Asia Museum. It's a two-part arrangement--an open house and silent auction for the public Sept. 24 in the museum's Chinese courtyard, and a gala dinner and fine art auction Oct. 7 (attire Oriental, tickets $175, catered by Rococo) in a decorated tent at the museum.
Up for auction will be an 1880 Steinway piano, rare and important Buddhist art of the Ming Dynasty, a balloon trip over France's Burgundy terrain, a Ch'ing Dynasty lady's robe of embroidered amethyst gauze, a woodblock print by Toradji Ishikawa. For starters. Also on the block--a luxury trip to Japan. Lisa Hubbard of Sotheby's will be auctioneer.
Adams comes from a unique family. His late grandmother, Aileen Macdonald, who traveled to China many times and collected Oriental art, was a great influence. His late aunt Julie Macdonald was a sculptor and an eccentric who kept baboons and hyenas as well as seven or eight dogs in her home, and who, when Ambassador College opened, had her daughter streak at the opening because of her objection to the building in the neighborhood.
His father, the late Peter Adams, was a part-time actor ("The Robe") and businessman. His late grandfather Morgan Adams at one time "owned half of Lake Arrowhead," and, adds Peter, "one of his yachts was the first to go through the locks of the Panama Canal." His late maternal grandfather George B. Seitz was a painter at the Philadelphia Art Academy and became a successful director and producer of the "Andy Hardy" series with Pearl White and Mickey Rooney, and, according to Adams, is credited with discovering George Gershwin.
The artistic bent was there. When Adams attended Harvard preparatory school, he disliked the paintings in the cafeteria, "So I stole some paints and put up my paintings and called myself Von Seitz." Later, he studied at Cal Western in San Diego, the Art Center, Otis Art Institute and in Theodore Lukits' studio.
Peter Adams' paintings--umbrella scenes at the Beach Club, children in gardens, the Summer Palace Bejing, air scenes of Pasadena and national parks, Tibetan monasteries, the Sierra, \o7 moujahedeen \f7 on the march--hang in private collections at the California Club and Curtis and Chadwick Schools.
He returned from China with more than 200 paintings. To paint in Afghanistan, he dyed his hair, grew a beard, marched with the \o7 moujahedeen, \f7 painting them and later donating proceeds from many of the paintings to the International Medical Corps. Only after he returned did he learn a $10,000 bounty was offered on foreigners.
Instead of painting these recent days, Adams has been rounding up art for the benefit and hosting a pre-party at the home of his uncle Morgan Adams in Hancock Park to honor donors.