Loudoun Painter Alfred H. McAdams

Alfred McAdams "appreciated whatever beauty he could find around him," a daughter said. When he wasn't creating art, he was mentoring other artists.
Alfred McAdams "appreciated whatever beauty he could find around him," a daughter said. When he wasn't creating art, he was mentoring other artists. (Family Photo)
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 16, 2008

Alfred H. McAdams, 93, a prolific Loudoun County painter whose work is included in the permanent collections of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Air and Space Museum, the Phillips Collection, the Watkins Collection at American University and several U.S. embassies, died of heart disease May 17 at the Jewish Home in Rockleigh, N.J.

He produced hundreds of paintings, lithographs and drawings over seven decades, many of them deeply personal images of his boyhood home in Kentucky and the Blue Ridge Mountains outside his home and studio.

In 1948, Mr. McAdams and his wife, June Virga McAdams, also a painter, bought the historic Lickey General Store on Mount Gilead south of Leesburg and rebuilt it as a vacation home. For decades, the McAdamses and their four daughters lived in Montgomery County, while Mr. McAdams worked as an artist for the U.S. Information Agency and later for the Smithsonian Institution.

In the 1970s, when their children were grown, the couple moved to the Mount Gilead house permanently and devoted themselves to their art. They also served as mentors to artists in the area.

A Washington Post reviewer noted in a 1984 article that Mr. McAdams, 70 at the time, was at the peak of his career: "In the new paintings, past and present, dreams and reality, ancestors and descendants still mingle, but in images that are far more complex, both in composition and expressive power. The range of subject matter is also far broader. 'Sleeper,' for instance, is a riveting image of Andy Warhol, his eyeless face a death mask topped by a huge hovering bat, suggesting total desolation."

Mr. McAdams was born in Louisville and grew up as part of an Army family in Kansas, the District, Chicago and elsewhere. As a child, he spent summers at the family home in Hawesville, Ky. His Tom Sawyer-like experiences in the hamlet on the banks of the Ohio River informed his art for the rest of his life.

As a youngster, he enjoyed drawing, and in the 1930s, he studied art at the Corcoran School of Art and George Washington University. Urged by his father to pursue something more practical, he studied architecture, first at GWU and then at the Royal Academy in Stockholm. He received an undergraduate degree from GWU in 1942 and a master's degree from Indiana University in 1948, both in fine arts.

He worked as a draftsman for Lockheed in Baltimore during World War II and then served in the Army in France and Germany, where he helped install telegraph lines.

After the war, he moved back to the Kentucky family home for two years while he worked on his Indiana University degree and then went to work for USIA, designing displays about the United States -- "propaganda," he called it -- for embassies around the world.

At the Museum of Natural History, he helped curators design exhibits for subjects ranging from the Ice Age to stamp and coin collecting. He occasionally wandered onto the Mall at lunchtime and, with an architect's eye, sketched the various museums being built.

For NASA, he painted the launches of Mercury, Apollo and space shuttles. The large works are on display at Cape Canaveral.

After June McAdams died in 2002, Mr. McAdams continued to paint, working out of an A-frame studio built for him in the 1970s by his neighbors -- "out-of-work lawyers and area hippies," in Mr. McAdams's words.

"It's very important for me physically and psychologically to come down here every day," he told The Post shortly after his wife's death.

Mr. McAdams left his beloved studio in the shadow of the Blue Ridge last year and moved to the Lillian Booth Actors' Home in Englewood, N.J., to be near a daughter, Peggy McAdams of Manhattan.

Another daughter, Weegie McAdams of Berkeley, Calif., told the Record of Bergen County, N.J., that her father enjoyed looking at a smokestack that was visible from his hospital bed. "His attitude was, he appreciated whatever beauty he could find around him," she said. "This wasn't a cranky old man."

Survivors also include daughters Cat McAdams of Eureka, Calif., and Tina McAdams of Chantilly and one grandson.

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