Case Study: Leo Adams

By Carolyn Mamchur

Principal Investigator

Linda Apps


Leo Adams has been hailed "Yakima Nation's Artistic Genius" (Labberton, 2007). That and the fact that Leo is a close friend, willing to invite us into his home as he prepared for a show, made him the prefect subject to explore our theories about artistic process.

Our belief was that the four basic and teachable constructs of writing process could be applied to the visual arts.

Financed by a SSRHC grant, we visited Leo's marvelous home where "forced by economics and his own ability to find art 'in objects that nobody wants,' he has spent more than 30 years making his 5,000 square foot home a place of junkyard genius" (Labberton, 2007, p. 55).

We were seeking to record evidence that Leo's process included the following skills first described by Murray (1968) and refined by me (Mamchur 1989; 2000) in twenty years of teaching writing:

Discovering a Subject

Sensing an Audience

Searching for Specifics

Creating a Design

Leo painted, I photographed and Carolyn interviewed. This is what we saw.

Discovering a Subject

Does not the artist, like the writer, need to find that subject, which must be discovered, explored, expressed in a focused way? Does not the subject have to flow from the heart and mind and lived experience and living curiosity of the composer? Does not the subject have to possess some degree of truth, of implied, of obvious, of hoped for truth?

Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate, or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such. Henry Miller

I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the truth of imagination. What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth - whether it existed before or not.   John Keats

View Discovering a Subject View Video

Sensing an Audience

Is it not incumbent upon the artist, as the writer, to influence an audience through the beauty and truth of the composition, written or drawn, in whatever form that truth and beauty reveals itself? Is that truth and beauty not dependent upon the vision and craft, upon the quiet discipline and vulnerable nature of the artist's mind?

Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.  Edgar Allen Poe

View Sensing an Audience View Video

Searching for Specifics

Are not the specifics that the artist chooses the very tools that stir the audience and make available the subject? Are not these concrete, powerful specifics so particular to the writer's story or the artist's painting that they make the piece convincing and original, giving the voice of authority? Are they not also the tools which provide universal access, turning an abstract concept into a living work of art?

Beauty is a form of genius--is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation. It is of the great facts in the world like sunlight, or springtime, or the reflection in dark water of that silver shell we call the moon.   Oscar Wilde

View Searching for Specifics View Video

Creating a Design

And finally, does not the visual artist need to find the shape, the form, the design most suited to the piece? Is there not a similar mandate for tension in all pieces of art? Is it not essential that something must be at stake in the work? Is there not the need to take away everything that does not need to be there?

Order is the shape upon which beauty depends.   Pearl Buck

View Creating a Design View Video

For complete details see:
Apps, L. (2007). Artistic Process: Demystifying Art-making. Diss. Simon Fraser University.


Labberton, M. (Fall, 2007), Leo Adams Yakima Nation's artistic genius. Mid-Columbian, 51-56.

Mamchur, C. (1989). Ship-building C+": A look at teacher evaluation in secondary English classrooms. English Quarterly, 21(40, 264-276.

Mamchur, C. (2000). Designs for learning: Writing. Education 485-8. Study Guide. Burnaby, BC: Simon Fraser University, Faculty of Education, Centre for Distance Education.

Murray, D. (1968). A writer teaches writing: A practical method of teaching composition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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