Alfred McAdams studied architecture and started his career as a draftsman during World War II. He soon discovered that he preferred to paint, however, and took evening courses at the Corcoran School of Art. In 1948, McAdams moved to Virginia, where he and his wife bought a general store as a weekend retreat. Later, they moved into the store and made it their year-round home. McAdams spent many years as an exhibition designer and worked on commissions for the Department of State, NASA, and the Smithsonian Institution.