The 1980's ushered in a revolution for sign making. Digital, electronic and vinyl mediums make it faster and cheaper to produce. But Norma Jeanne Maloney isn't interested in building a plastic empire.
"You're late for the party. Rock and Roll is dead. Don't pick up the brush," Maloney said others advised her. "...but I couldn't help it. It's what I'm supposed to do. I have no choice," she said.
Each sign, and she's painted thousands, has a stroke of sincerity. An artist whose passion for paint began long ago. As you drive into the small Texas town of Taylor you'll see a bright blue and black painted sign on the side of a floral shop. It pictures Animator Tex Avery and the legendary Cowboy Bill Pickett. Both men are from Taylor and it's home to Norma Jeanne Maloney too.
"There's something endearing about finding your way here," said Maloney. "When you find your way in Texas, you get it. And when you get it it's pretty sweet. But it took a long time," she said.
Maloney grew up in Kentucky with her mom and sisters.
"It was the hardest time of our lives and the best time of our lives because she taught us everything," said Maloney.
By now, Norma Jeanne had a full-fledged fascination.
"I was just drawn to old signs. I would just look out the window like, it was candy everywhere: COLOR TV, Sinclair, Texaco, Gulf. Just kind of obsessed with it at a really early age," Maloney said.
But she still needed the tools, until one day it was delivered.
"I'm three days into an hour job and I'm thinking this is the most horrible thing ever," Maloney said. She was painting with a rigid nylon brush from the hobby store, and a man approached her and asked if she was a sign painter.
She responded by saying that she wasn't, and he told her to wait, and he would be right back.
"He came back with a quill which is what I'm using now and it was like the gates of heaven opened up. I knew right then this is what I wanted to do. It was the most beautiful feeling and I had this control. The way the paint came off the brush and I turned around to thank him and he was gone," Maloney said.
Red Rider Studios was born, and Norma Jeanne Maloney varnished veracity from San Francisco to Nashville like a Picasso John Prine, channeling her best blue-collar buddha. And then the painting paused.
"When you're coming to a place like Texas, and you're not from here you have to channel your authentic self," she said.
Norma Jeanne started making ends meet as a trucker.
But a passion for painting never subsided and her wife encouraged her to reopen Red Rider in Central Texas.
And the timing…on point. There was a new appreciation for nostalgia. It was always there for Norma Jeanne but her unique hand was in demand and she finally got a chance to thank her angel with an art brush when a visitor arrived at Red Rider Studios.
"I said it's you and he said it's me and we just hugged. He changed my life. Calvert Guthrie was his name," said Maloney.
It adds up to 13 years as a Texan and she still has more miles to go on an inner journey.
"That's the scariest thing I'm ever going to do is to write my story. I think," said Maloney.
"Tell me why?" asked KXXV Anchor Lindsay Liepman.
"I've had some things happen in my life that have been profound and I'm in recovery and I talk honestly about that. I think what's happening in our country right now with addiction just painting and having fun, isn't enough. I want to contribute something. I want to share my story and help other people," said Maloney.
You can view more of Norma Jeanne's art or commission her work by visiting her website: http://www.redriderstudios.com/.
"Texas Voices" airs every Monday at 6:30 pm on Central Texas News Now and highlights the artists, musicians and creatives in our great state.