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Stone Farm House 1926 by Adele Fay Williams
Old Stone Farm House 1926 by Adele Fay Williams

Adele Fay Williams 1859-1937

Adele Fay Williams was born in 1859. She was the eldest of two daughters of William Fay, a photographer who came to Joliet in 1860. William Fay had been practicing his art since 1847; he was probably one of the earliest photographers in the state. Both of his daughters became artists. The younger daughter Winifred was born in Joliet in 1861.

Adele was determined to be an artist from her childhood. She went to the Chicago Art Institute before it was incorporated under that name. She then attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts, after which she went to the New York Art Students League. She did not join the Ashgan School, but instead went to Paris in 1893. She spent her first three years there at the Paris Colossi Atelier and Lasar Studio. She then studied under the French impressionist painter Pissaro and returned to the U.S. after touring the art museums of Europe.

Aside from her artwork, Adele was an excellent writer who wrote for a number of American papers in the east such as the New York World, the New York Journal, and the Washington Times. She also was an art critic for the Pittsburgh Spectator. While in Pittsburgh, one of her paintings won first prize at a Carnegie Institute exhibit. She was a member of The Experimentalists, a Pittsburgh women's avant-garde art group.

In 1901 Adele married John Williams; he died around 1916. After his death, she returned to Joliet and devoted her talents to writing about and drawing Joliet and the surrounding area. She wrote about the history of the buildings and the people of the area. She also drew a large number of Joliet street scenes. Many of her drawings and articles which appeared in the Joliet Herald were drawn from the past, based upon her memory and old photographs. A number of the buildings she depicted have been destroyed since her death.

Her articles were the most avidly read part of the Joliet Herald and many of her drawings were clipped out of the newspaper for posterity. Some area residents still keep these now yellowed newspaper clippings.

Adele's major triumph is an artistic skill she brought to Joliet from Europe: mastery of the depictions of the street scene. Her drawings and prints represent one woman’s effort to record the history and development of a town through its architecture. This effort is rather rare in this country. Her access to historic photographs – probably her father's – and her knowledge of the past enabled her to record scenes that since have disappeared. Equally important to her were contemporary scenes; some of her best work involved depictions of the architecture of everyday life in the Joliet area.

Adele was very active in Joliet's social life and wrote of the activities of the Joliet Woman’s Club and the Business and Professional Women’s Club for her newspaper. She also knew and worked with Chicago artists such as Laredo Taft, and she was a friend of the famous attorney Clarence Darrow.

Adele lived alone with her large collection of cats, her only other subject besides street scenes. One of her cat portraits won the aforementioned Carnegie prize.

During her lifetime, Adele probably was the best-known Joliet resident. Adele Fay Williams died in 1937.

The original collection of drawings and prints was donated to the Howard and Lois Adelmann Collection in 1989 by Katherine Woodruff Barnes.

An additional 88 drawing and prints were donated to the Howard and Lois Adelmann Regional History Collection in August 2011 by Dr. Robert E. Sterling.

The drawings can also be seen at the Howard and Lois Adelmann Regional History Collection website at

Note: Biographical information on Adele Fay Williams can be found in A Biographical Dictionary of Painters and Sculptors in Illinois 1808-1945: A dissertation for the Doctor of Philosphy Degree in Fine Arts, Northwestern University, 1972.

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