John Adams Spelman (1880 – 1941) was born in Owatonna, Minnesota on September 30, 1880. When he was twelve years old the family moved to Minneapolis where John attended North Side High School. In addition he was able to study briefly at the Minneapolis Museum of Art. About 1900 John, together with his widowed mother, two brothers, George and Herbert, and a sister, Mabel, moved to Oak Park, Illinois. Shortly after arriving in Oak Park, Spelman began taking night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, being otherwise employed during the day. Later he became associated with his brothers in a newspaper circulation business and, after a few years, he was able to devote most of his time to the further study of art under the instruction of John Vanderpoel and Charles Frances Browne.
Spelman had a keen interest in northeastern Minnesota, especially along Lake Superior, because it was still relatively wild country with a small population. His interest was spurred by reading about it and, eventually, by making some trips to investigate the region. Because he was an outdoorsman, John decided to purchase land for a cabin and studio on the shore of Lake Superior north of Grand Marais, Minnesota, where he could paint scenes of the woods, inland lakes and the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior. After his wife and children had departed at the end of summer for their winter home and school in Oak Park, John would remain behind to paint fall and early winter scenes. Returning to Illinois he would spend time with his family and then visit galleries to renew acquaintanceships and to place his paintings for sale. During the winter and early spring when it was still too cold in Minnesota, Spelman would paint the mountains of eastern Tennessee and the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. He would sometimes travel with Rudolph F. Ingerle with whom he had both an artistic and personal affinity. Ingerle painted in North Carolina so often that he gaining a reputation as The Painter of the Smokies.
Spelman was a member of the Austin, Oak Park and River Forest Art League, The Palette and Chisel Club, the Chicago Galleries Association and the Academy of Fine Arts. He was the recipient of many honors and awards from artist societies, museums and galleries. His works are included in the collections of the Chicago Athletic Association and the Vanderpoel Memorial Collection in Chicago, the Springfield Art Association and the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, the University of Nebraska, and in churches, clubs and distinguished private collections.
John Adams Spelman died on May 19, 1941 in Moose Lake, Minnesota. He was buried just a short distance from his beloved cabin and studio. He was survived by his wife, three daughters and a son, John Adams Spelman III.