On a late summer morning, Mike McCarthy ’90 was studying two tall wooden structures standing on the sawdust-covered floor of a fabrication shop in the Bluegrass Industrial Park in eastern Jefferson County. It’s here that the engaging visitor experiences that Louisville firm Solid Light dreams up for clients like museums and universities become a reality—and as fabrication manager, McCarthy is in charge of making that happen.
“We have to make sure that whatever the designers design, we get it to look like that,” McCarthy said.
So what were these wooden pieces? “We’re not sure yet.”
His comment drew a chuckle from Solid Light fabrication specialist Chris Mozier ’09. The two men, both graduates of Bellarmine’s fine arts program, were working on displays for a new Visitors Center in Corydon, Indiana, that will celebrate all the attractions of Harrison County, including its extensive cave systems. “These structures will enclose a corner of the display area and give it a ‘cave look,’” McCarthy said.
Building a cave with wood is just another typical day at the Solid Light shop, where no job is ever typical. That’s what McCarthy loves about it. Before Solid Light owner and president Cynthia Torp bought his Trinity Designs company two years ago, he was designing kitchens and building lots of cabinets—and getting bored. “There is no challenge to it, whereas here, there is always a challenge,” he said. “There is no handbook on how to do it. You have to figure it out.”
Solid Light has designed interactive visitor experiences for clients ranging from the Delta Blues Museum in Mississippi, to the Hermitage in Tennessee, to the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center in Southern Indiana to Bellarmine, where the team created the diorama that honors pioneering surgeon Allan Lansing in the new Lansing Learning Commons on the first floor of the W.L. Lyons Brown Library.
“Mike’s art education, talent and diverse work experience make him uniquely qualified to head up Solid Light’s fabrication group,” Torp said. “He has the artistic vision, strong work ethic and discipline to lead his team in the creation of our highly specialized, one-of-a-kind installations.”
For his part, McCarthy praised Torp’s willingness to “let us do what we want to do. She really does let us run the shop,” he said. “It’s a good atmosphere. And I don’t have all the hassle of payroll.”
McCarthy, who is from a Chicago suburb, was drawn to Bellarmine by the artwork of fellow Chicagoan Bob Lockhart, longtime art professor, and worked with Lockhart in his personal studio long after graduation. It was there that he met Mozier, a St. Louis native who apprenticed with Lockhart during college and has now been with Solid Light for two years. Both men worked at various points on Lockhart’s Robert Bellarmine sculpture, which now stands in the Quad. “I had the opportunity to see it all the way through casting,” said Mozier, who worked for Bright Foundry for nine months after graduation. “It was cool to see that whole process.”
(Solid Light has two additional Bellarmine connections: CFO Dennis Riggs is a 1983 Bellarmine graduate, and Samuel Noffke, the son of production director Jonathan Noffke, is a current student.)
Like McCarthy, Mozier enjoys the creativity of working for Solid Light. “We are starting to do more of the interactives in-house,” he said. “There is less woodworking and more moving parts, and just prototyping some of the things we’ve never done before,” such as a stylized tree for the Harrison County Discovery Center that will have three independently moving horizontal rings.
“Everything we build, we’ve never built before,” McCarthy said. And that’s ideal for two artists. After all, he says, “The neat thing about art is that your best piece is the one you haven’t done yet.”
Carla Carlton | email@example.com
Photos by Jessica Ebelhar