Bottomland, Drawings and Monotypes by Kelly Adams, on View at Adkins Arboretum


There's a haunting primordial beauty in Kelly Adams's drawings of the remote wetlands of eastern North Carolina. On view at Adkins Arboretum Visitor's Center through Sept. 30, this show explores the shadowy, watery secrets of these fragile bottomlands.

Wetlands used to be dismissed as waterlogged wastelands, but in recent years, it has become clear that these much-maligned environments are vital to the health of the earth. Whether the tidal marshlands of Delmarva or North Carolina's forested swamps, wetlands are home to an amazing diversity of plants and animals and constantly filter water, purifying it and preventing flooding and erosion, as well as moderating global warming. Fascinated by these natural roles, Adams has been drawing wetlands for the past 25 years.

"It started when we lived adjacent to a tidal marsh," she recalled. "A local developer had some shady deals, including a sewage treatment plant that was responsible for illegal discharge of waste into the estuary. A messy business, but I learned a great deal about the fragility of wetlands and have continued to explore these areas in their various forms over the years."

In her drawings in charcoal, graphite or oil pastel and her small monotypes, Adams creates powerful images of strong, muscular-looking trees and tangles of grasses and vines emerging from deep shadows. Her choices of viewpoints are striking-looking sharply up the trunks of towering trees or down at their reflections in the still water, where blades of marsh grass and floating leaves break the water's surface.

Adams earned BFA and MFA degrees in painting & drawing from East Carolina University, where she is currently Media Center Director and Associate Professor for the School of Art and Design.

She draws with enviable skill, weaving countless close-up details into every scene. Two long, horizontal graphite drawings of shorelines teem with bafflingly complex tangles of tree roots, vines, reflections, shadows and shafts of sunlight, while green leaves and their reflections in milky-blue water in an oil pastel, titled "Walking on Water: Anointed," bring to mind an Impressionist painting.

Throughout this show, the unique character of the bottomlands is foremost. There's an otherworldly feeling about "Indigene: Bald Cypress," a graphite drawing of a massive cypress with "knees" growing from its roots to form what seem like the towers and ramparts of a fantasy castle. But in a charcoal drawing, "Diminishing Connections," it's obvious that changes in the wetlands have eroded soil from the roots of the trees.

In the intimacy of these drawings, it's easy to empathize with Adams's feeling for the quietude and fragile fecundity of these wetlands. She evokes an atmosphere of timelessness, with only one hint of human intervention - a small, hardly noticeable cabin tucked under some distant trees. In sharp contrast to past attitudes toward wetlands, there's a sense of reverence here that invites respect and preservation.

This show is part of Adkins Arboretum's ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists, sponsored in part by Caroline County Council of Arts. It is on view through Sept. 30 at the Arboretum Visitor's Center located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410-634-2847, ext. 0 or for gallery hours.

Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. Open year round, the Arboretum offers educational programs for all ages about nature and gardening. Through its Campaign to Build a Green Legacy, the Arboretum will build a new LEED-certified Arboretum Center and redesign its entrance to broaden educational offerings and public outreach initiatives promoting best practices in conservation and land stewardship. For additional information about Arboretum programs, visit or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.