After decades in corporate world, Joe Adams returns to his roots
Most people with Joe Adams' résumé - serving as a Navy pilot in World War II and as an administrator at University of Oregon Health Sciences Center as well as being appointed by Tom McCall to be chairman of the Public Employee Retirement System Board of Directors - would be content to rest on their laurels.
But instead, Adams has gone on to have an entire second career as a sculptor and artist, creating hundreds of beautiful pieces over the years and still spending hours at his craft every day.
"I did artwork all my life, but I couldn't wait to retire so I could do artwork all the time," said Adams, who has lived in Summerfield for more than 17 years.
One of his favorite painting subjects has been the Old West - cowboys and Indians, small rustic outposts and the trains that brought passengers and goods to the frontier.
Adams' love for all things Western no doubt started after he was born in 1925 on a wheat and cattle ranch west of Spokane.
"I love horses," he said. "We had a mile-long lake on the property, and I went fishing and hunting."
After graduating from Gonzaga High School in Spokane, Adams became a naval aviation cadet in 1943.
"After 19 months, I got my commission and Navy wings of gold in February 1945 at Corpus Christi, Texas," Adams said.
From there he was sent to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to fly F-6 Hellcats but then was reassigned to flight instructor school in New Orleans. After additional instruction, Adams was sent to teach flying at the naval air station in Memphis, Tenn.
"We were issued overhauls and a parachute and went to work," he said. "That was one of the best times of my life. The actor Robert Taylor was one of my fellow instructors."
Adams left active service in November 1945, although he flew F6Fs and F8F Bearcats in the reserves, and went back to the family farm, "slopping the hogs and feeding the chickens."
Adams remembers his mom saying to him, "Your wings have been cut."
After a few weeks of farm life, Adams, who had attended college for a year before the war, decided to go back to school under the G.I. Bill and prepared to become a teacher, even doing student teaching in 1949, "but after that, I decided it wasn't for me," he said.
He graduated from Gonzaga University in Spokane with a degree in business administration and was working when he got an offer to come to work on Marquam Hill in Portland.
As the various medical buildings on Marquam Hill were built, changed names and consolidated, Adams was hired as the first public relations director and stayed on the hill for 27 years, retiring in 1976 as vice president for planning and resource development.
"Consolidation like that was going on all over the county, and I visited other institutions around the country to report on what they were doing at the request of the chancellor of the State Board of Higher Education," Adams said. "I was an administrator and ran different departments and did strategic planning, fundraising and working with the alumni association. At the time I probably knew half the doctors in Oregon by their first names. The job was really fun."
Adams retired two years after the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center, encompassing the medical, dental and nursing schools, was formed as an independent institution under the Oregon State System of Higher Education.
After he left the health sciences center, Adams worked for two years for Providence Hospital and then another year for Holladay Park Hospital before running the Calaroga Terrace retirement center near the Lloyd Center for five years.
Also, Tom McCall appointed Adams to be chairman of the PERS Board of Directors for five years, and although Adams kept trying to retire, retirement wasn't ready for him. An old friend, Hugh Scott, offered him a job selling advertising for the Regal Courier, which Adams did and continued to do for a while after Al Hieb purchased the newspaper.
"But finally, I wanted to work at my artwork full time," Adams said. "I took it on as a full-time job. I got up, showered, dressed and sat at my easel."
Adams, who has been close to a full-time artist ever since, said, "I'm having as much fun today as I ever did."
Adams showed artistic talent as a youngster, first drawing in pencil and ink. "My aunt said, 'Joe was born with a pencil in his hand,'" Adams said. "In school, the nuns showed me how to use water color, but I wasn't good at it.
"I used to study my mother's artwork when I was a kid - she kept it in the piano seat - pencil sketches of the Gibson Girl, John Barrymore - the Great Profile, scenery and so forth."
Adams literally taught himself how to paint when he was almost 60: "I went to Fred Meyer and bought a canvas and oil paints - I didn't even know there was such a thing as art stores - and bought some books," he said. "But then I started going to Western art shows and saw that the guys making the real money were doing bronze sculptures and decided to try it. I bought a book and clay and taught myself."
In a photographic book he put together showing many of his works, Adams explains how he started sculpting: "One night, using my daughter's modeling clay, I fashioned this simple Indian head. Next, I made an armature (skeleton) out of a coat hanger and came up with this cowboy gunman. A few days later, I built a more complicated armature with an Indian rider on his horse.
"Feeling more confident in handling the clay, I built an elaborate armature and wrapped the clay around it until I had a horse dumping a rider. I then took it to a foundry and had it cast in bronze."
He went on to learn a lot more about sculpting and bronze work using the lost wax process.
"The first bronze figure is the original, and the next four or five are first editions, and then another 10 to 40 can be made from the same mold before you have to make a new mold master," Adams said. "I really liked doing the three-dimensional art.
"I stopped painting, and I did pretty well financially with bronze sculptures. I showed bronzes at shows all over the country. I did bronzes for 25 years."
Adams started a business called Age of Bronze, won recognition in military circles doing bronze sculptures of airplanes and became a member of the American Society of Aviation Artists.
Adams served as the guest artist at the 50th anniversary celebration of the B-24 Liberator bomber at Fort Worth. Two of Adams' bronzes of B-24s were given to Congressional Medal of Honor winners at the event; and his P-51 Mustang fighter bronze was later presented to Gen. Chuck Yeager.
While Adams was in Fort Worth for the B-24 Liberator celebration, the logistics of working in bronze and showing the pieces started to wear on him.
"To create a piece, you invest $3,000 to $5,000 and you need to go find a buyer," he said. "I lost interest in doing it for speculation. I think what broke my back was when I was at a show in Fort Worth, Texas. I unloaded the bronzes from my car, and they are heavy. I carefully pushed a cart full of them up the street. Then at the show I stood on a concrete floor for five days, and I thought, 'That's it.'
"It had been so much fun, and I couldn't think of anything more challenging, but it was time to stop. I didn't do any art for a while, and then I picked up painting again. I don't go to shows or paint with art groups - I like to do it here in my apartment. I have missed meals because I was so busy painting."
Adams' subjects have ranged from wartime to the Old West to astronauts to religious figures to romance.
"I have sort of quit doing Westerns now and am doing more romantic pieces," he said. "I did enough horses to last me a long time. I love to keep learning new things."
One important lesson that Adams has learned is that he must be totally accurate in his renditions: "If you do a bridle on a horse wrong, you will get a call," he said. "I sold a guy in New York a bronze of a B-17 that he paid $3,000 for, and he called me one night and said, 'You don't have the cowl flaps open like they should be. They should be dripping oil.'"
In November 2005 Adams completed putting together a book filled with photographs of many of his paintings and sculptures, and he updated it in October 2011.
In the book, Adams quotes Montana's famous cowboy artist, Charles M. Russell, who once said, "You can't help it if you were born with talent, but you are responsible if you don't use it!"
Adams divided the book into four sections: the first contains his earlier works while he was in school; the second part shows the earlier oil paintings he created while he was busy with his career and raising a family; the third section shows his sculptures; and the fourth contains his later oil paintings.
"Now you can thumb through my fantasy world of cowboys and Indians, Northwest scenery, beautiful ladies of history, airplanes and a lot of other things I painted or sculpted because they were commissioned or because I felt they had not really been done before or just because I wanted to do them," Adams wrote in the book's forward.
Almost all of his paintings and bronzes have been given titles, although toward the end of the book, Adams comments, "You will find very little information in this little booklet which describes what is 'going on' in these paintings and sculptures. I have always believed that the artwork should really tell the story, leaving it to the viewer to become 'immersed' in the action portrayed. This allows him or her to fill in the details using their own imagination."
Adams, who moved from the Fountains in Summerfield into Summerfield Retirement Estates in August 2012, has five children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.