Eugene Brady Adkins (1920-2006)

by Shawna Lewis


Eugene Brady Adkins was the grandson of W. Tate Brady, who came to Tulsa in 1890 and helped turn a tiny town into a formidable city. The man left his mark. But Adkins’ heritage was not the biggest conversation starter of his life; rather, it was the $50 million worth of art he kept in his house.

The collection included starkly vivid and colorful pieces by artists like Will Shuster, Maynard Dixon, and Leon Gaspard. In addition to the more than 1,000 paintings— many of which are accompanied by original sketches and thumbnails—there are also hundreds of fine pottery pieces and over 1,600 pieces of jewelry and ornamental silver, among other valuable odds and ends.

Adkins’ collection is awe-inspiring, not only in grandeur but in diversity—art by both male and female artists, varied cultures and subcultures, modern and traditional. A painting by Rebecca Salsbury James utilizes “reverse painting on glass,” a challenging and tedious technique in which she painted on the back side of a sheet of glass to form a reverse image on the front. A Leon Gaspard painting was completed on silk and, after Adkins bought the piece, it traveled to Moscow for an exhibit before he welcomed it home.

Adkins ventured across the Southwest for more than four decades to search out the art of his dreams and celebrate Native American culture. In Santa Fe, he found a treasure trove: a stirring assemblage of artists called the Taos, and their modernist cousins, Los Cinco Pintores, “The Five Painters.” With an intense penchant for travel that dated back to Brady family road trips he’d taken as a child, Adkins developed a habit of writing postcards to himself as a way to document his travels and findings.

In May 1989, he wrote, “The beautiful Fremont Ellis show went down today at Santa Fe East. Now, I’m waiting in anticipation to see if I will be the one to purchase Fremont’s wonderful oil ‘Winter Afternoon.’ Home tomorrow, hasta la vista. Hopefully, Gene.”

“Winter Afternoon” did become part of his collection, the entirety of which has been left to the Philbrook Museum of Art and The University of Oklahoma.