Artist paints warships with Nevada-related names
For the Nevada Appeal
Wayne Scarpaci, a noted Northern Nevada artist and historian who specializes in painting warships with Nevada geographical names, has longtime personal ties to the U.S. Army as well as the U.S. Navy.
Although he was a sea cadet in high school and his father was a career Navy man, Scarpaci joined the Army at the age of 17, “because it offered me a great opportunity to learn about computers,” says the 60-year-old Gardnerville resident.
Following basic training and graduation from the Army’s computer school, he was assigned to Kasserne Barracks in then-West Germany, a post just 100 miles from the border with Czechoslovakia, a member of the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact.
In 1968, a year after he arrived at Kasserne, the Soviet Army invaded Czechoslovakia, overthrew its government that had established liberalized economic and political reforms, and installed a brutal Stalinist regime.
“The Cold War was at its height during that time, and the U.S. and the West feared the bloodbath could spill over to Western Europe. Our unit was on high alert during the Soviet invasion, and we watched on radar the Soviet troop and airline movements as they headed into Czechoslovakia. It was an exciting but dangerous time in world history,” said Scarpaci, who left the Army as a staff sergeant.
But Scarpaci’s naval roots also were deep. He had built ship models and drawn pictures of warships as a child and had listened to the dramatic accounts of his father, who was thrown overboard into the Pacific when his ship, the USS Sarsi, an ocean-going fleet tug, hit a North Korean mine and sank in 1952. His father, who broke both legs, was picked up by a U.S. destroyer after treading water for several hours.
Following a successful career in Southern California as a computer engineer, Scarpaci and his wife, Swarn, a native of India, moved to Gardnerville five years ago, and today he works full-time in his home studio adjacent to the Carson Valley Golf Course painting and publishing books on U.S. Navy ships as well as military aircraft and historic Nevada railroad trains.
Scarpaci sells his paintings to the public and also has donated several of them to Nevada cities and counties that bear their names. In July, he presented his painting of the USS Carson City, a 307-foot frigate commissioned in 1944, to Carson City during a ceremony held at the capital’s City Hall. The painting, together with the ship’s bell and other memorabilia, are on permanent display in the lobby of the City Hall on North Carson Street.
The USS Carson City, according to Scarpaci, saw extensive combat during World War II in the Pacific that included participation in U.S. landings on Japanese-held Morotai Island and Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. At war’s end, the U.S. loaned the Carson City to the Soviet Navy and later to the post-war Japanese Navy, which renamed it “Sakura,” which means cherry blossom in Japanese.
In 1971, the ship, by now old and obsolete, was returned to the U.S. Navy which sold it to a Taiwanese company that broke it up into scrap.
Scarpaci says that more than 80 U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Army, U.S. Maritime Administration and commercial cargo vessels have borne the names of Nevada cities, counties and famous state citizens.
The most famous of these, of course, was the battleship USS Nevada.
Other ships include the Churchill County, Douglas County, Washoe County, Reno, Las Vegas Victory, Elko Victory, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Ely, Nye County, City, Ormsby, Clark County and Lincoln County.
Ships named for important Nevada historical figures include Adolph Sutro, the mining baron; Francis Newlands, the Nevada U.S. senator who sponsored legislation that created the Lahontan Dam; James W. Nye, Nevada’s territorial governor; J. H. Kinkaid, the state’s first elected governor; U.S. Nevada senators Key Pittman and William Sharon; and Kit Carson, the explorer and Army officer for whom Nevada’s capital city was named.