Classic cars and signs go hand in hand for longtime painter

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  • Gary Gudmundson at his shop in Evergreen on July 20. Gudmundson has a long career that includes sign painting and stainless steel work on classic cars. His hobbies also revolve around cars and include auto racing and restoring his own classic cars. Most recently he has been writing a book. (Brenda Ahearn photos/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Portrait of Gary Gudmundson at his shop in Evergreen on Friday, July 20. Gudmundson has a long career that includes sign painting, stainless steel work on classic cars. His hobbies also revolve around cars and include auto racing and restoring his own classic cars and most recently he has been writing a book.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Cubby, Gary Gudmundson’s cat sits on the hood of a classic Studebaker at the shop in Evergreen on Friday, July 20. Gudmundson says he has never had a cat like Cubby, who is named after the Cubs, his favorite baseball team. “Cubby will follow along as I show the cars,” said Gudmundson. “But only after he has decided you are a real car person.”(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Gary Gudmundson displays some of his lettering skills.

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    The John O. Murphy Repair truck is an example of Gary Gudmundson’s most recent work. The truck belongs to Mitch Murphy of Mitch’s Autowerx in Evergreen. Gudmundson painted the truck to look like the paint is as old as the truck itself.

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    An example of Gary Gudmundson’s painting. He painted his name and logo on the car he used to race.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Portrait of Gary Gudmundson at his shop in Evergreen on Friday, July 20. Gudmundson has a long career that includes sign painting, stainless steel work on classic cars. His hobbies also revolve around cars and include auto racing and restoring his own classic cars and most recently he has been writing a book.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Gary Gudmundson at his shop in Evergreen on July 20. Gudmundson has a long career that includes sign painting and stainless steel work on classic cars. His hobbies also revolve around cars and include auto racing and restoring his own classic cars. Most recently he has been writing a book. (Brenda Ahearn photos/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Portrait of Gary Gudmundson at his shop in Evergreen on Friday, July 20. Gudmundson has a long career that includes sign painting, stainless steel work on classic cars. His hobbies also revolve around cars and include auto racing and restoring his own classic cars and most recently he has been writing a book.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 2

    Cubby, Gary Gudmundson’s cat sits on the hood of a classic Studebaker at the shop in Evergreen on Friday, July 20. Gudmundson says he has never had a cat like Cubby, who is named after the Cubs, his favorite baseball team. “Cubby will follow along as I show the cars,” said Gudmundson. “But only after he has decided you are a real car person.”(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 3

    Gary Gudmundson displays some of his lettering skills.

  • 4

    The John O. Murphy Repair truck is an example of Gary Gudmundson’s most recent work. The truck belongs to Mitch Murphy of Mitch’s Autowerx in Evergreen. Gudmundson painted the truck to look like the paint is as old as the truck itself.

  • 5

    An example of Gary Gudmundson’s painting. He painted his name and logo on the car he used to race.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 6

    Portrait of Gary Gudmundson at his shop in Evergreen on Friday, July 20. Gudmundson has a long career that includes sign painting, stainless steel work on classic cars. His hobbies also revolve around cars and include auto racing and restoring his own classic cars and most recently he has been writing a book.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Whether you’ve meandered down Main Street or cruised past a car show, chances are you’ve seen the work of Gary Gudmundson, a local sign painter and classic car restorer who has been operating in Evergreen for more than 45 years.

The fruits of Gudmundson’s labor are clearly evident within his workshop. A rainbow of paint splatters coat the cement floor. A massive wooden board looms over the back wall, where designs are conceptualized. Rows of keys to classic cars hang from a corkboard by the entrance, each with just as much character as the car they belong to. The most remarkable thing about his workshop, however, isn’t the vintage hardware — it’s the lack of modern technology.

In his 50-plus-year career in sign painting, Gudmundson has handmade each and every sign without the help of a computer program, and for good reason.

“Even now, when people can find designs online, original ones are impossible to find,” he said.

Gudmundson takes pride in the original signs he creates for his clients, and favors a creative approach in order to uniquely suit each one. His personal favorite? The iconic mural outside Wheaton’s Bike Shop on First Avenue in Kalispell. “Everyone’s seen that one at some point,” he said with a smile.

Gudmundson’s passion for painting was ignited at a young age. As a child, he fondly remembers working with his father, who was also a sign painter, on projects all over his hometown of Miles City, Montana.

“I was 5 years old when I first started painting signs,” he said. “I was painting letters before I knew what letters meant!”

His artistic talent continued to manifest throughout his youth, and eventually, his signs allowed him to pay for college with the money he had earned during the summer.

Even after earning his degree and becoming a banker, Gudmundson yearned for his previous passion. He returned to sign painting after a short-lived stint in banking.

“I knew it [painting] was what I wanted to do,” he recalls. “Even at an early age for me, it just clicked.”

His artistic skill, however, came with a surprising caveat: color blindness.

“It was funny,” he explained. “Back in school, I was the ‘star student’ in art class!”

In one story, Gudmundson recounts how his color blindness may have been a blessing in disguise after he painted a sign for a motel. Years after painting the sign, Gudmundsun was contacted by the motel once again.

“They loved the colors on the sign so much that they wanted me to do all the colors for a remodel,” he recalled. Even after explaining that he was colorblind, the motel continued to ask for his work. “I even told them, ‘you know I’m colorblind, right?’ But they said it didn’t matter.”

In a world of digitally printed decals, Gudmundson’s signs evoke a sense of nostalgia and wonder sadly forgotten by the modern generation. Despite this, his unique signs are still prominently featured all over the Flathead Valley, and his supplementary work in car restoration has made him a mainstay in the Flathead Valley’s classic car community. Above all, Gudmundson maintains a love for his work, and is proud to have followed his passions to this very day.

A final anecdote perfectly captures these sentiments: “It was 1965. I was painting signs, working on cars, and had a huge crush on this girl named Sandy. Now, I’m still painting signs, I’m still working on cars, and Sandy and I just celebrated our 50th anniversary.”

Reporter Galvin Ness may be reached at 758-4407 or gness@dailyinterlake.com.

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