Rob McCarthy – Painting the Town
October 20, 2005
Besides the many signs he has created, Rob McCarthy has left his mark painting several murals in downtown Truckee.
McCarthy fine-tuned his skills in the 1970s when he worked as a scenic artist at Walt Disney World. Working in an orange grove barn with sculptors, architects, designers, and copper smiths, McCarthy painted signs, scenes, backgrounds, masks, bumble bees, lobsters and more.
During my interview with McCarthy, two signs were being crafted at his shop which required mounting on tree posts. One sign was being fastened to real logs. The other was being constructed using steel posts wrapped with a rubber material that looked like bark. McCarthy explains that he learned a lot of tricks in making things look real through his six years spent working for Disney.
For 23 years the McCarthy Sign Company was located across the Truckee River from downtown, in the building that once housed the historic Chinese herb shop. McCarthy moved his business two years ago to a new location on River Park Place off of West River Street. Except for the fact that the old building did not have level floors, McCarthy enjoyed its character.
If you scan the upper reaches of the buildings downtown, you’ll notice several murals which are the work of McCarthy.
In the 1980s McCarthy painted a scene on a roll-up door of a small building that has since been torn down. This structure was tucked between the telephone company building and the brick building that now houses Bryant’s Rare Books. Grace Robertson could often be seen through the window sitting at her real estate office desk. McCarthy painted Robertson after she passed away as the community remembered her, peering out of her office window, complete with a 2 inch ash on her burning cigarette.
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McCarthy was commissioned to paint the Charlie Chaplin mural on the west facing side of the Capitol Building 15 years ago, and touched it up, adding more color last year. McCarthy explains that nearby avalanche blasting that goes on in winter shakes the plaster off after a while. Before the Charlie Chaplin mural went up, the wall advertised the defunct Capitol Saloon and Dance Hall”a sign that McCarthy also painted.
Another mural that McCarthy painted is on the east facing brick wall of the previously mentioned building that currently houses Bryant’s Rare Books. This mural incorporates a 1930s Franklin and a very thin “Mr. Swab” character carrying skis over his shoulder. Truckee, Calif. is emblazoned across the top. Harrah’s Auto Museum in Reno provided McCarthy with his model for the two color car. After painting the mural, McCarthy antiqued it to make it appear as if it was painted 80 years ago.
McCarthy’s talents extend to airbrushing, sand blasting, and metal work too. One sign of which McCarthy is particularly proud is on display at Riverstone on Donner Pass Road with a tipping watering can that he constructed and then chemically antiqued.
Correctly interpreting his customer’s requests is another side of McCarthy’s business. He tells of a “Hell’s Angel” customer who was dissatisfied with a ghost another artist had painted on his motorcycle which apparently looked like Casper the friendly ghost. McCarthy redid the ghost, painting a scarier version.
When asked if he has ever misspelled a word on a sign, McCarthy admits that spell-check is an important tool for a sign maker. One time, a McCarthy Sign Company employee painted a sign for the 5th Mountain Battalion Maneuver, a visiting group of military skiers. He misspelled “Maneuver” so that it resembled the word “Manure.” McCarthy was relieved that the group had a sense of humor as he received ribbing later about the mishap when he ran into some Battalion members at a bar downtown.
McCarthy takes advantage of his Truckee lifestyle, enjoying a game of tennis or a swim in Donner Lake on his lunch hour in the summer. During the winter he’s a regular at the Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District’s noon-league basketball.
McCarthy and his wife Jeanie teach a Jitterbug Swing dancing class at the community center on Tuesday nights. He and his wife have been dancing since they met. While on a vacation from his job at Disney, McCarthy traveled to the ski town of Kitz Buhl, Austria where he met Jeanie on a dance floor. They have been married 30 years.
McCarthy also teaches an airbrushing class at the high school where students learn how to put art on a three dimensional object such as a helmet or snow board. McCarthy believes his class “opens kid’s eyes as they learn how to execute a logo from concept to completion.”
One McCarthy-created sign in demand locally warns, “Caution, Ice and Snow May Fall from Roof.” For tourists who don’t speak English, McCarthy has added a rendering of a bear ducking from a chunk of ice that’s about to fall on his head.
From murals on buildings to signs that give businesses visibility, Rob McCarthy’s work demonstrates that if you have an idea, he can figure out how to create it.