After serving in the Army as a private in World War I, he became a student at Art Institute of Chicago. In 1919 he moved to the Arts Student league in New York and became a pupil of K H Miller, George Bridgeman, Maurice Sterne, and Eugene Speicher. Summers were spent with Andrew Dasburg in Woodstock.
From 1921 to 1923, Adams studied in France and Italy, painting landscapes that were exhibited in Topeka upon his return. In 1924, Adams moved to Taos to be with Dasburg and Walter Ufer. He became the youngest and last member of the Taos Society of Artists and perhaps the most dedicated modernist of them all. He was also one of the most emotionally connected to the Taos Indians.
In 1929, Adams began teaching at the U of New Mexico in Taos. The dominant subjects in his work became the Spanish Americans and landscapes. In 1938, he moved to Albuquerque because he was awarded a Carnegie Corporation grant to become the first artist-in-residence at the University of New Mexico. His work by 1950’s was devoted to nudes, portraits, and still life, while his summer subjects in Taos were flowers, the Indians and the rural Spanish Americans.
A testament to his vision and recognition outside the Southwest was his election to the National Academy of Design in New York in 1981.