Born in Albany, New York, he studied at the Pratt Institute, with Herbert Adams. He also studied at the Art Students League of New York with George Grey Barnard and Hermon Atkins MacNeil, and then in Paris for three years under Jean Antoine Injalbert before his return to the United States in 1910.
In 1914, McCartan became the Director of the sculpture department of the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design in New York City. Eleanor Mary Mellon was among those he taught during his career.
Posthumously honored by the National Sculpture Society, his public monuments were few—but the Eugene Field Memorial (“Winken, Blinken, and Nod”) can still be found in the Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago.
McCartan’s sculpture, The Nude, was stolen from the Grosse Pointe War Memorial in Michigan and was discovered at the bottom of the Detroit River eight years later.
Other work can be found at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina. New Jersey Bell Headquarters Building, a national historic site in Newark, New Jersey includes pilasters by the artist. He worked on a pediment for the Department of Labor Building, in 1934 to 1935.
He died in New Rochelle, New York, September 20, 1947 and is buried at St. Agnes Cemetery, Menands, New York.