Local Pizza Meets Local Art
By Ruthie Laroche
For the County Courier
This winter two motivated members of Franklin County teamed up to bring a fresh look to one of St. Albans premier pizzerias.
Dennis Rathburn, the owner of Pie in the Sky restaurant, was ready to update the one wall of the dining room.
He knew what he wanted, and he knew who to call.
"We wanted something vibrant, local, and with a Vermont feel. I talked with Jon Young of Jon Young Artworks; when he came in, I told him I wanted to do a Franklin County kind of piece. I love his cows; I've seen them in several places," said Rathburn.
Rathburn had seen Young's work over the years, and he had one particular design in mind.
"I had seen a painting of his a while ago that had a farm scene with the American flag as the sky; I told him that was my favorite one of all," Rathburn said.
Young and Rathburn both grew up in Franklin County, and although one owns a restaurant and the other is elbow deep in acrylics, the two share a love for the county where they grew up.
"Jon told me that he remembers the farm fields and railroad tracks in Swanton, where he grew up, so he added that in to tie his mural in with the one on the other side," said Rathburn.
Dennis wanted to add the Canadian flag to thank the many customers from across the border who frequent the restaurant.
Young skillfully worked the flags into the design.
Rathburn was surprised at how quickly Young painted the large mural.
"It took Young two sittings to finish it. He did the first half in one day, and then came in the next day and finished the second. It took about 16 hours, which was a small amount of time compared to the other mural which took over a hundred hours," Rathburn explained.
The mural on the wall facing Young's was airbrushed nearly 13 years ago by Ron Hernandez during the last remodel of the restaurant.
Young works with stencils, spray paint, and brushes to create his vibrant and unique style.
The response from the community has been extremely positive, according to Rathburn.
"We took our slow season and made it busy because so many customers wanted to come in and see the mural," Dennis explained, "It really helped us out."
The Pie in the Sky Facebook post about the mural had well over 10,000 views, and Rathburn was amazed at the interest the project generated.
One of Rathburn's primary goals is to support as many local folks and businesses as he can, so having a gifted artist right down the road was ideal.
"I like to support the local community. They are the ones that support us," said Rathburn.
After the mural was complete Rathburn hired Mike Beyor of MSB Builders to complete the remodel. Beyor crafted rustic, custom benches along the wall below the mural. He also did some other woodworking projects for the restaurant to help tie the room together.
Rathburn loves the fact that folks from all over the county frequent the restaurant on a regular basis. He and his employees know that the local customers are the backbone of the business.
"I've been here for so long that many my customers are now my friends," said Rathburn.
Rathburn recently purchased the restaurant from his partners Lynn and Kevin Lawler who had started the business nearly 30 years ago.
"I actually started as a dishwasher at Diamond Jim's Grille, and I worked my way up to the point where I became a partner with the Lawlers at Pie in the Sky," said Rathburn.
"I want to thank Lynn and Kevin who started this place in 1988. They set the pathway, and they got the restaurant this far. All I'm doing is taking what it was and bringing it up to date," said Rathburn.
The new mural was Rathburn's first remodel since he acquired the company this winter.
"The mural was a nice, fresh thing for my customers and my employees," said Rathburn.
Pie in the Sky employs 35 people, and Rathburn values each one and the excellent service they provide to the county.
"I have a great staff, said Rathburn, "I try to treat them the way I want to be treated."
The man behind the artistic magic, Jon Young is a native of Swanton. Young and his wife (this is an assumption on my part. Correct me if I'm wrong.) Arleigh met in high school, graduating in 1995.
Today the couple and their daughter Violet reside in a modest house in St. Albans but don't be fooled by the quaint, one-story ranch. Although it may look like the others in the neighborhood, a step inside reveals a home awash in brilliant colors and lovely paintings, where creativity and beauty meet the eye at every turn.
"I've always done art--sketching and painting, all through grade school and growing up. It's always been part of my life. I had a lot of encouragement from teachers; things progressed that way with encouragement from family and teachers," said Young.
"I went to art school in Boston and studied illustration, and then I did a semester at Johnson State, just to follow Arleigh," said Young with a chuckle.
"He says that," said Arleigh with a smile, "but I was chasing him the whole time."
It doesn't take long to see why the couple is so well matched.
"You have to be into the dream," said Arleigh, of Jon's work, "It needs its time, and you can't take that away."
Arleigh's support of Young's work comes from a long-standing love and understanding of the art and the artist.
"When you've been together and been friends as long as we have, I guess you find your place in your relationship. I support his art; I supported him a long time before he was ready to be 'out there,'" said Arleigh, "It's good to have somebody who tells you they think you should do it."
The importance of making room for Young's art is something the couple has developed and sees today as an excellent balance.
"You can't have jealousy for it," said Arleigh, "sometimes when people are in relationships with people who are creative and need to do things that must be out in the public eye, it can be a challenge. I'm more reclusive than Jon, in general. I have to be open to letting him go and do what he needs to do even if I can't be there. It's what you need to do to be who you are."
Young works a regular 9 to 5 and then comes home and heads to his studio around 8:00 and paints until midnight.
"I've always tried to paint daily, no matter what my day job was," said Young, "It's my nighttime release and disconnect from the boring day stuff."
Currently, Young works for an art supply wholesaler in Williston, where he gets to play with the materials and has the opportunity to field phone calls from customers about products.
"I've always got my hands in the paint," said Young.
Arleigh pointed out that the art supply job has opened many opportunities for Young as he's traveled to trade shows and art based events around the country.
"There are often artists who teach classes at the trade shows he attends. I think that's afforded him the opportunity to meet successful artists who have given him tips and hints about how to be successful and get his work out where people can see it. There's going to be rejection, but at the same time, those artists encouraged Jon to gain confidence and put himself out in the public eye more. I think the job really pushed him to sell paintings and paint semi-professionally," said Arleigh.
Over the years Young has participated in many artistic events within Vermont.
Young was selected to take part in the 'Wall to Canvas' competition hosted by the Magic Hat Brewing Company.
"Magic Hat invites 12 graffiti-style artists that are chosen from a jury-style selection. The artists get three hours to paint a three by four-foot canvas. It's open for people to watch, drink beer, and listen to music. It's a fun afternoon in August. I've met a lot of artists there," said Young.
Out of that event Young met two artists from the Northeast Kingdom who were commissioned to paint murals in the mall. Those artists invited Young to collaborate with them on the project. His work can be seen at the University Mall today.
"It's so important to be open to learning from others and using what you learn to grow your own art," said Arleigh.
"We artists are pretty secluded in our own time," said Young with a chuckle.
Arleigh noted that the seclusion is especially noticeable in Vermont where the artistic community tends to congregate in local pockets.
"The guys that did the mural in the mall are part of a group of artists out of Eden, Vermont. Artists can choose to be solitary or else they can push their work out there and find their niche," said Arleigh.
The artists from Eden along with artists in Burlington, known as the Anthill Collective, held a large festival in the summer of 2017 called the 'Above the Radar' event on the waterfront in Burlington near the ferry dock.
"The collective painted a large empty wall near the dock black and invited local artists they knew from different cities to come in and work on this 60 x 120-foot wall with scaffolding and lift trucks everywhere. I was able to paint a little, tiny piece of the wall," said Young.
Painting large spaces is something that Young often does, so the Pie in the Sky wall wasn't overwhelming.
"The wall at Pie in the Sky was a big area to fill, and I had a lot of items to get in there. I started with the drawing and the stenciling--the larger sections like the cows and the barn and the flag poles. I paint all the lines with dark blue, and then I fill in from there," said Young.
Young's work is big, bright and beautiful, but there are also a lot of little pieces that draw the eye to different areas of the painting.
"One of my art teachers in college told me that if you can get someone to look at your painting for more than three seconds, it's a successful painting. I always try to put a little more in there to keep it interesting and keep people engaged and finding things in it," said Young with a smile.
The train was one of the last things to be added to the mural. "There was a lot of space left on one side. I grew up on Route 78 in Swanton along the Missisquoi River, so the train went right along the road there by the wildlife refuge. Also, being in the Rail City, it was good to put that in there," said Young.
"I do work fast," said Young, when asked about the speed with which he finished the Pie in the Sky mural, "I work with acrylics which dry fast, and I work on multiple things at a time, trying to get as much done as possible."
Young prefers to paint his home state scenery over anything else, and if he's painting on his own, those themes can be seen in his work. The Pie in the Sky mural allowed him to express that.
It's not every day an artist can gain success in the Franklin County area, but Young has crafted a niche of his own. When asked what aspiring local artists should focus on, Young spoke freely.
"Look at as much art as you can--old art and new art. Talk to as many artists as you can, go to art openings and enter into competitions. Get your name out there. Self-promotion is probably the hardest thing for an artist to do, but it's probably one of the most important things to do if you want to be 'just and artist.' It's tough to do. You need to get your art into free hangings, put together a portfolio--take advantage of every opportunity to get your work out there," said Young.