EDITOR’S NOTE: The following, which is part of an ongoing monthly feature, was submitted by Gwen Zwicker.
SACKVILLE, N.B. – Twenty-five years ago, Rob Lyon made the decision to call Sackville his home.
“At the time, I was a writer, illustrator and photographer for a nationally recognized birdwatching magazine in Ontario. I was sent to do an article about the sandpipers at Johnson’s Mills (and was also exhibiting at the Atlantic Waterfowl Celebration). When I went back to Ontario, I handed in the article and my notice and moved to Sackville . . . and as they say, the rest is history.”
He had felt himself drawn to the area and to its pace of life and made the decision to follow his dream of being an artist. For a while, he lived in the old servants’ quarters at Rocklyn Inn in Dorchester and took part in some exhibitions along with his friend, carver Jim Edsel.
Rob opened his first full-time studio 20 years ago and moved between a few locations in downtown Sackville before buying, adding to and renovating the space he now owns on Weldon Street seven years ago. He works in watercolour and, because he has a background in birds, plants and nature, that is what his paintings focus on. He has worked with national parks, Canadian Wildlife Service and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and has produced brochures and interpretive panels for walking trails and others. He designed interpretive panels for Sackville’s Waterfowl Park, which help people interpret what they are seeing and hearing as they walk through the park, making the experience more personal.
These days, Robert Lyon Graphics is a bright and open space featuring a selection of Rob’s watercolours, along with t-shirts, hoodies, cards, calendars, soaps, creams, weaving, socks and art supplies. Rob is very proud of the fact that everything in the store (except the socks and art supplies) are made by either Rob himself or his wife Katherine.
“Katherine and I have worked together to offer a varied selection of products in the store, but ones that complement each other. Katherine makes the soaps and the creams and is the weaver. Our two children have also worked here over the years, learning what it takes to run a small business. We decided to bring the socks in simply because we liked them and a partnership with The Art Shack allows us to offer art supplies.”
Along with the products that you see in the store, Rob does screen printing, graphic design, illustrations and commissions. He says the business is always evolving and of course different times of year they are busy with different aspects of work. Rob and Katherine produce all their own limited-edition prints, cards, T-shirt designs and calendars.
“That allows us to be the manufacturer, the wholesaler and the retailer,” he says, “and gives us the flexibility to work through slower times.”
There are always challenges to running your own small business. Rob says his are no different than other business owners’ in Sackville – the property tax burden, bank fees and the fact that as a small business owner, you work long hours (for him, six days/week).
Rob is very happy with his downtown location and says that the downtown businesses have a very good relationship with each other.
He says, “These are not competitive businesses. We all work together to try to bring more people in – not just those living around town or the tourists who drop by, but those from Moncton or Amherst or other locations. The number of tourists who visit is unpredictable from year to year, so we have to work harder at attracting others living within the region.”
Rob says that the nice spinoff of being a business downtown is that he has a vested interest in seeing the community succeed and the businesses succeed. He has been the Chair of Downtown Revitalization and has seen Bridge Street and Lorne Street upgraded, which are positive steps. He says the wonderful thing about being in a small town like Sackville is that you can be proactive and can effect change.
“You have a voice. You can talk to Town staff or Councillors and express ideas that begin a conversation.”
Rob did not move to Sackville for a job and he did not know anybody when he moved here.
“All I wanted to do was paint,” he says, “and along the way I realized that running a business is just like a big art project.”
He says as he and Katherine have gone through the journey, they have learned that their business (like other small businesses) can be unpredictable but that they both have worked at it and have learned to adapt.
Rob is comforted by his belief that there is a certain predictability in Maritime businesses and that we in the Maritimes do not typically see the ups and downs of businesses in places like Ontario.
“It becomes very difficult to operate a business when there are numerous extreme ups and downs,” he says.
On Oct. 20-21, Rob was part of the Art Across the Marsh Studio Tour. This tour was started by Rob, Ghita Levin and Donna Sharpe 19 years ago and has grown each year since its beginning. For more information on the studio tour, you can go to www.artacrossthemarsh.ca or call 506-536-1904.
You can find Rob Lyon Graphics at 10 Weldon St. in Sackville. The store is open Monday – Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. and on Saturday from 10-a.m.-4 p.m. Read more about Rob’s story and products at http://www.robertlyongraphics.ca/ or email Rob at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.