There is a single macaroni noodle hidden in the “Lady Vista” mural on Columbia’s Gervais Street.
Freelance designer, illustrator and occasionally muralist, Cait Maloney, painted her favorite food instead of a signature on her mural.
Although she doesn’t sign much of her work, Maloney’s designs are scattered across Columbia, adding “a little real, a little surreal and a good helping of humor” to events like the State Fair or other Columbia features like the Three Rivers Greenway.
The inspiration for “Lady Vista” relied on abstract renderings of music and culture, however, her other muses have come from old movies. The 1968 science fiction-fantasy film Barbarella, directly inspired her recurring character “Bubble-rella,” who dons bubblegum-pink hair and a space helmet in many of Maloney’s prints.
Her goal is not to become rich or famous. She wants to “just make cool sh*t.”
Maloney’s feelings about notoriety aren’t new. Those who have known her said she has always liked to stay out of the spotlight.
Maloney’s high school art teacher, Elin McGruder, remembers her student as conscientious and observational, all good qualities for an artist, McGruder noted.
“Sometimes I might have said things that would have gone over a lot of students’ heads, but I could tell that she understood what I was saying,” McGruder said.
Maloney’s father, Timothy Maloney, said that’s the girl he knew as well.
“She's not over the top,” Maloney’s dad said. “But she's still not a shrinking violet either.”
Maloney’s dad raised her and her three brothers in Williamstown, a small suburb outside Syracuse, New York.
Many people were skeptical of her artistic aspirations, even her father, who always supported her, Maloney said. Their doubts helped motivate her through college — she had to prove everyone wrong.
“I said that she'd never make any money, and I was very much against it,” her dad said, “I’m not gonna lie. Now, obviously, she's proven me wrong. It does get brought up, all in good fun.”
Maloney, currently 36, designs for companies all over the country. Her dad spotted a beer that his daughter had designed the label for at a New York bar. He and his friends decided to try it.
“The beer was awful, but the label was really cool,” he said, laughing.
Maloney was not always the artist she is now. She moved to Columbia, for the art and grittiness of the city, and began working for a signage company, where she met her now-boyfriend of 13 years, Chris Gamble.
“I remember the days when she was working full time and she would come home and work till midnight or later on her stuff,” Gamble said.
Eventually, she had made enough contacts to quit her job and start freelancing.
Maloney’s fun style caught the eye of the Vista Guild, a coalition of business owners in that part of downtown, which commissioned Maloney’s first mural, “Lady Vista” in 2019.
Lee Snelgrove, former executive director of One Columbia, a non-profit that supports public art, helped her through the mural process.
Snelgrove said Maloney’s eye for dimension helps keep her work engaging, which makes “Lady Vista” perfect for the fast-paced location.
“People will see it going pretty fast down Gervais, or as they kind of go in and back and forth in the alleyway,” Snelgrove said.
Maloney’s dad remembered how his daughter called him during the project to joke about the comments he used to make on her paintings.
“I would say, ‘I can help you if you're doing a painting, I have a roller,'” Timothy Maloney said. “That was a standing joke for a while. And then she's out there using a roller, and she called me one day and she said, ‘I could really use your help now,’” Maloney joked.
The Columbia community praised Maloney’s painting even before it was finished, commenting on her progress as they walked through the Vista.
“There could be a lot more places where we could have art on the side of a building, give more color to our city, make it feel more young and vibrant,” Evan Spence said.
Spence is an employee in Boku Kitchen and Saloon, the building that “Lady Vista” is painted on.
Although "Lady Vista" was painted years after Maloney graduated McGruder’s art class, the news spread to Williamstown.
“It is an amazing undertaking to work on such a large scale like that,” McGruder said, happy she gets to see the success of her former student.
As Maloney continues to find success as a freelancer, she is achieving the goals she once set for herself. She remembered she was once asked during an interview what her dream job would be.
“And I said, ‘to do (design and branding for) a macaroni and cheese restaurant, or to do a b*tchin' mural.’”