When I walk into Matthew Joseph Parkhurst’s metal shop in Glenshire I hear EDM music pumping from the speakers as he tinkers away in the far end of the room. He welcomes me with the hearty handshake of a third-generation Truckee resident whose grandfather and great uncles worked on the railroad and harvested ice.
Watch a video of Matthew Joseph Parkhurst’s “Prayer Cube” spinning in downtown Truckee
Parkhurst tells me he graduated from Truckee High School in 1988 with a few shop classes under his belt and joined the Navy H60 Anti-Submarine Warfare unit based in San Diego.
“It’s their version of the Blackhawk,” he says. “When the helicopter left the ship, I’d go down below and tinker on things.”
“Each [of the Ant sculptures] has its own personality. They were definitely a lot of fun to make.”
–Matthew Joseph Parkhurst
After five years of service, Parkhurst began a career in aviation. He performed helicopter repair at the Truckee Tahoe Airport, earned his airplane pilot’s license and became a director of maintenance for Emery Air, Inc.
“I thought at one time I’d want to be a ‘glorified bus driver,’ but I knew it’d get boring after a while,” he says. “The funniest part was when I had to manufacture repair parts for the older planes myself.”
In 1999, Parkhurst used his GI Bill money to complete paramedic school. He joined the Truckee Fire Protection District where he is now a captain. His father, Joseph Parkhurst, retired from the district the same year.
“I stayed away from it for a while, but eventually I realized it was part of my dream,” Parkhurst says. “What’s really cool about the fire service is that no two calls are the same. The educational opportunities and challenges never stop and it provides me with a sense of service to give back to community.”
Like many fire district employees Parkhurst works a 48-hours-on/96-hours-off schedule each week. During his down time, he keeps himself busy with his artistic passion: metal work.
Parkhurst operates MJP Fabrication and Mechanical Services and his motto is: “If I can’t build it, or fix it, it’s probably not worth it.”
Parkhurst’s business first blossomed when he realized there was a real need in the community for attractive address signs on bear bins, especially at the end of long driveways.
“When the house is on fire, it’s easy to find, but 90 percent of our calls are medical and we need to find them just as fast,” he says.
From there he constructed recognizable works around town such as the Riverside Studios sign downtown or his most recent installation at Truckee’s northernmost roundabout: The Ants.
They are situated on the center mound in the roundabout at Alder Drive and State Route 89. One ant has a piece of driftwood in his mandibles. Another is clutching metal grass blades and flowers. The third is trying to eat a big, old quartz stone. “Howler” has his head reared up toward the moon like a coyote and there’s yet another popping his head out of the top of the mound.
“Each has its own personality,” Parkhurst says. “They were definitely a lot of fun to make.”
The Ants were constructed using five-gallon, decommissioned propane tanks for the head, three-gallon tanks for the middle abdomen and 20-gallon tanks for the rear ends. The rest of the body is formed using 16-gauge steel cut on a CNC plasma cutter, shaped and welded in his shop.
Parkhurst has collaborated on several pieces for Burning Man over the years, including multiple arts cars and Steve Atkin’s “Fire Spire,” which traveled the country as part of A&E’s “Shipping Wars.”
“We could have brought it to Rio, but it was 3 inches too tall for the box,” Parkhurst jokes. “It’s always a learning experience.”
You also may have seen his “Prayer Cube” spinning in downtown Truckee or the “T-Rex” lurking around Fernley, Nev.
Parkhurst also teaches plasma-cutting classes at the Truckee Roundhouse and takes on jobs of any size and type. | mjpfabrication.com