By Debbie Adams
Terry Lyon is the featured artist for June at Gallery 202 on Market Square in downtown Roanoke. His exhibit includes paintings of Norfolk & Western railroad workers in the last days of the steam age. The series is based on photographs in the form of slides from 1958 taken by his father, who was the roundhouse foreman for about four years in Crewe, Va.
The town of Crewe was founded in 1888 as a central location for Norfolk & Western’s locomotive repair shops on its east-west route from the Appalachian coalfields to Hampton Roads.
The Lyon family settled in Vinton, where his mother’s family was from, as his father continued to work for the railroad. Terry Lyon graduated from William Byrd High School with the Class of 1962. He was named Outstanding Senior in Art that year.
His talent and interest in art have been lifelong. In 1950, when he was 5 years old, his drawing of a car was published in the well-known children’s “Highlights Magazine.” His first and last published work as an artist, Lyon jokes.
Lyon went on to graduate from Virginia Tech in 1968 with a degree in Building Construction from the School of Architecture. He was employed as an engineer for 30 years and worked in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Hercules until it was bought out by ATK. That’s when he decided to retire and turn his pastime into his full-time career. He has had an established presence in downtown Roanoke art galleries since 1986, with most of those years spent with Gallery 202.
His upstairs studio has a wonderful view of Mill Mountain. He has created more than one painting featuring that view, including one of the area before the City of Roanoke existed when the valley was mostly salt marshes surrounded by mountains. He is a little concerned that a parking garage may spring up downtown blocking his view.
He generally works in his studio at the gallery from about 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday. When he’s not painting or talking with the other artists at the gallery, he spends time with his wife, Linda, whose career has been in teaching elementary school. They have a son, James, a daughter, Amy, and two young grandchildren.
Lyon is a prolific artist. He says he has kept a written record of his artwork since 1977 and has sold his work in at least 30 different states. He has been exhibiting his work at the Art Pannonia gallery in Blacksburg for the past 20 years, in other galleries, and in shows at Art in the Park in Richmond, Festival in the Park in Roanoke, the Boardwalk Art Show in Virginia Beach, the Whitetail Park Show, in Bath County, Rockbridge County, in North Carolina, and more.
Art Pannonia Director Judy Garbera says, “Lyon is one of the best known and most beloved artists in the Roanoke Valley and beyond.”
He has had Juried Exhibitions in Roanoke City, Roanoke College, and Virginia Tech Art Shows, in the Ferrum College Portrait Show, and the New Waves Exhibition at the Virginia Beach Center for the Arts.
His numerous art awards include first place in Landscape in the Bath County Art Show in Hot Springs; first place at Our Lady of Nazareth Religious Art Show in Roanoke, and the Smith Mountain Lake Art Show Merit Award.
His original oil painting of a Wythe County farm was chosen by American Electric Power (AEP) as a gift for dignitaries and key players upon the completion of the 765,000-volt power line from Wyoming County, W.Va., to Jackson’s Ferry in Wythe County, Va.—a 16-year project.
Copies were presented to Gov, Tim Kaine, AEP CEO Michael Morris, and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, among others.
Lyon predominantly paints landscapes and figures, and sometimes still lifes. Much of his work has been with live models.
He says he bounces back and forth between single paintings and series. He is not sure what he will be working on next after working so intently on the railroad workers paintings for three to four months, off and on, leaving him a little weary.
He prefers to paint with oils, not acrylics. He favors the “alla prima” painting method where the artist aims to complete a painting in one session. Lyon says he sometimes completes a small painting in a couple of hours.
He describes himself as a representational artist, whose work depicts something easily recognized by most people, not abstractions, and both impressionistic and expressionistic. Impressionism aims to capture the essence of a scene, while expressionism conveys the artist’s feelings or emotional response to the scene.
The current exhibit at Gallery 202 features several railroad workers involved in their various jobs at the roundhouse, which is a building with a circular or semicircular shape used by railways for servicing and storing locomotives.
The “Crewe Crew” highlights the general mechanics in the roundhouse. The “Tender Tender” is a painting of a general-purpose millwright (skilled machinist) in the shop. Others are of workers putting coal and water in the tenders (usually the coal-car) and replacing steel tires on the locomotive.
Another shows the “hostler” who moved the locomotive in and out of the roundhouse. “Hostler” derives from the term for a stable hand who moved horses in and out of stables.
His sister Ellen Flowers commented that Terry “has truly captured an era and the people who were part of that time and place.”
His formal art training includes studying drawing at the Roanoke Fine Arts Center, figure drawing at Virginia Western Community College, and a workshop with Maubry Brown at Roanoke College. He says his style has evolved through informal interactions with other regional artists.
Lyon is not really a self-promoter. You can find his paintings on the Gallery 202 and the Art Pannonia Facebook pages, his Facebook page, or on his Instagram site at terry.lyon.7, but there is no website advertising his work.
Lyon has some entertaining stories to share about his life. He built his own house over a five-year period from 1978 to 1983, taking a year and a half on the foundation.
Another of his hobbies has been building model airplanes from balsa wood—once again inspired by his father, Captain W.S. Lyon, a World War II pilot.
He was once spurred by the Foxfire book series to tap trees to make maple syrup and after a long, drawn-out process produced one tablespoon of the prized syrup.
There is a story in Vinton of Lyon and his four siblings digging a swimming pool by hand in the yard of their home. He says that is partly true. They dug out an earlier attempt at a pool originally dug by a bulldozer. His dad tried pouring concrete in the shallow end, while Lyon and his sister Jan focused on the deep end. He had an old gasoline-powered concrete mixer, which he later used to build his house. The pool was ready to use in 1973 and was in continuous use until about 2007.
Stop by Gallery 202 through the end of June to catch the N&W railroad workers exhibition. Lyon invites the public to visit him at the gallery to view his work and that of other artists. He is there from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday through the end of June.