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Son of Edinburgh-born Stephen Adam (1848–1910), a stained-glass artist and designer who founded one of the most successful stained-glass businesses in the West of Scotland.
Stephen (Senior) trained with the eminent glass-painter James Ballantine of Ballantine & Allan, in Edinburgh, before moving to Glasgow in 1865 where he started working as an assistant at the new business set up by Daniel Cottier.
Later establishing his own studio, Adam's business expanded significantly from 1889 and he mentored many younger artists, including his son Stephen Adam Junior, and Alf Webster, both GSA students. Stephen Junior studied at GSA from 1890-1892 in the Design Department, and was awarded a Haldane Bursary in both 1890 and 1891. He was a gifted student as GSA records reveal:
1891: National Competition, 3rd grade prize, Stage 23d, figure composition
1891: Local exam, advanced, Stage 23c, design ornament, first class
1891: Local exam, advanced, Stage 5a, shading from models, 1st class
1891: Local exam, advanced, Stage 5b…
After graduating from GSA, Stephen Junior became his father’s business partner. A publicity article from 1891 describes the Adam’s Glasgow premises in St Vincent Street as six-storeys of 'lead-working ... cartoons ... glass painting workshops [and] kilns for firing'. During the 1880s, the business completed 220 memorial windows. Adam Senior is perhaps best known today for his series of realistic depictions of local industries for Maryhill Burgh Hall in 1878, said to mark a 'defining’ shift in subjects considered suitable for such decorative treatment.
A dispute with his father led to the break-up of that relationship in 1904. Stephen Junior is believed to have emigrated to America, and Alf Webster subsequently took over Adam’s studio