artistry to sculpt life-like dolls
SCOTTSBURG, Ind. Bob McAdams is living proof that dreams can
come true. But he's the first to admit that it takes courage to take
the first step.
He took that step in 1988 when he quit his Fortune 100 job of 20 years
to explore his passion for art. It was even more courageous when you
consider that at the time, he had no idea what sort of art he was going
by Don Ward
sculptor Bob McAdams
carves the face of a Santa Claus,
for which he has become famous since
quitting his corporate job and devoting
his life to his art. McAdams' dolls
are bought by Hollywood actors
and corporate CEOs around the world.
You would probably have a hard time convincing him then
that he would someday become a nationally renowned doll artist, taking
orders from such famous clients as Hollywood actors and CEOs of major
Today, he lives with a friendly rottweiler named Kara and three cats
in a custom-designed two-story home deep in the woods west of his native
Scottsburg, Ind. His house sits on 28 acres a few miles from where he
grew up riding horses on nearby Knobstone Trail.
In his garage studio, which he calls Knobstone Studio, McAdams sculpts
dolls out of clay and wire, and has three employees who take orders
and sew the clothes for his now-famous Santas. Most stand about 24 inches,
but he has made life-sized dolls and other characters on request.
He sells his work primarily through annual gift market shows but has
made special editon sets by request for the Smithsonian Institute and
His widely successful artistry also has gained him exposure in several
national magazines and large newspapers, and on area television stations.
In November, he appeared in a segment of WHAS-TV's morning news show
and has just been selected as a featured artist at January's Atlanta
International Gift & Home Furnishings Market show. With nearly 7,000
exhibitors, the show is among the largest in the country.
"It's a great honor to have been selected for this," said
McAdams credits his success to God, to his late father's business influence,
and also to his own personal philosophy on stretching to reach a goal
a philosophy that he still espouses to students in the art classes
he teaches in Louisville and Scottsburg.
"Whether it's art or anything else, I believe we need to push ourselves
beyond what we think we are capable of going," he said. "And
if you stretch yourself, you will achieve your goals."
McAdams should know, having given up his high-paying job at NCR in Dayton,
Ohio, to explore his talent. At the time, he was smoking three packs
of cigarettes a day and suffering from high blood pressure.
Since then, he has quit smoking, taken up running and lifting weights,
and has brought his blood pressure under control.
He always had in the back of his mind the idea of moving back to his
native Scottsburg, but didn't make the decision until the right property
went on the market.
"When I saw this property for sale, I couldn't get here quick enough,"
he said. "I think it was predestined."
Once here, McAdams soon found himself taking care of his father, Lee
McAdams, a former truck driver who suffered from Alzheimer's Disease
and who died two years ago on Christmas Day. He left behind Bob, his
half-sister, and Bob's niece, with whom he remains close.
McAdams lives an idyllic life surrounded by nature and his pets, and,
in addition to teaching, takes part in several civic activities in Scottsburg.
He had no formal art training but had always been interested in art.
Once he had cut his ties with the corporate world, he studied various
techniques and philosophies in art books. He decided on dollmaking as
a way of distinguishing himself from the pack of painters. Plus he had
a fascination with sculpting.
"I figured there is only so much wall space in the world and most
of it is already full," McAdams said.
He's come a long way from his first art show at the 1991 Leota Frolic.
Today, McAdams is known for his realism in his work. His attention to
detail is evident. And there is also a sense of movement in many of
His popular Santas sell between $800 to $1,000. He makes smaller dolls
for $300 and has sold life-sized dolls for as much as $10,000.
His customers many of them gift shop owners around the country
rave about his artistry.
"I met Bob three years ago at the Atlanta gift show and have not
seen anything that even comes close to his ingenuity and creativity
and meticulous craftsmanship," said Ann Newbold-Tripodi of Ladue,
Mo. "My customers have come to await each year's new designs with
great anticipation and are always thrilled when they arrive to add to
their own collections."
Marlene Montgomery, a Scottsburg artist and musician who has known McAdams
since childhood, said she wasn't surprised at her friend's success.
She attributed it to both his talent and marketing skills, which he
learned from the business world.
"Bob's wonderful with colors, and he's a perfectionist," Montgomery
said. "All he's ever wanted to be was an artist, but his father
wanted him to go into business, which has served him well."
Even with his success, McAdams wrestles with his label as a dollmaker.
Especially after having taken up residence in rural southern Indiana.
"I'm a man and I'm an artist, but essentially, I'm a doll artist.
And it took me a long time to call myself that publicly."
Regardless of labels, McAdams' talent speaks for itself.
Back to December 1999