Healing Our Heroes


How horses are bringing hope to those who give their all

By Susan Baldani

Many of our veterans have a hard time transitioning back into civilian life. Suicide and divorce rates are high, and traditional therapies are not always successful when dealing with their unique issues.

Jennifer O’Neill, the long-time actress, model and author, set out to help these heroes. In 2010, she started Hope & Healing at Hillenglade, an equine-assisted program for veterans (and first responders) that teaches them new ways of coping with a myriad of issues. Steven DePalma, her partner with Hope & Healing, has served in Afghanistan.

“There’s something very special about warrior to warrior conversations,” she said.

All programs take place on her farm, located right outside of downtown Nashville. Veterans often come to Hillenglade from Fort Campbell, as well as  organizations such as Operation Stand Down and Wounded Warriors.

“We have served over 4000 military and first responders and their families,” she said.

O’Neill believes that it’s not enough just to work with the veteran or first responder; you also have to work with their families.

“We are intent on dealing with the entire family unit,” she said. “You can’t deal with one person and not look at the trickle-down effect.”

When participants arrive, they meet with O’Neill and/or DePalma and get to know each other. This exchange helps to ascertain the specific needs of the veterans and first responders. Once that’s done, they will begin to interact with the horses.

“It’s so interesting to see what happens, because it varies with the person and with the horse,” she said. “For instance, knowing our horses and knowing our guests, we can partner them with a specific horse that will work on their specific issues.”

Horses, she said, are flight animals. Their instinct is to check you out to see if you’re going to hurt them.

“Our program is not about riding; it’s all about ground work,” said O’Neill. “Horses have 17 expressions, so it’s interesting to see these men and women warriors who come in perhaps feeling distant, and develop a trusting relationship with our horses.”

What happens, she said, is this beautiful dance between the person in the pen and the horse. During this time, the horse is loose – or at liberty – and by using specialized exercises, O’Neill and DePalma help to create a relationship between the two.

“When a horse, this 1200-pound animal, comes to them by its own volition and willingness to want to partner and have a relationship with them, you just see these amazing heroes just break down and completely respond.”

Many times, she said, participants don’t realize they’re presenting with anger, or coldness, or acting threatening.

“Horses are our mirrors, and with their 17 different expressions, they can show what they think of us pretty easily,” said O’Neill. “God was in a good mood when he made a horse.”

Initially, Hillenglade Hope & Healing hosted large celebrations where veterans, first responders, and their families could get away in the country and be around the wonder of therapy horses. However, when they were finally able to build a covered pen a couple of years ago, they got into deeper healing programs.

“That has been a real blessing,” she said. “It’s very difficult to start to do deeper healing and say ‘Well, I’ll see you in the spring,’ or ‘The weather’s not going to be good this month.’ Now, we have groups come down for three-day deeper healing events.”

Once participants have gone through their program, O’Neill and DePalma will then have them talk about what they’ve learned and experienced at the farm and how they can take that home to their families and friends and to their work environment. If requested, they will also work in concert with certified counselors in more traditional therapies.

Hillenglade Hope & Healing also offers an Empowerment Transition Program. This program provides veterans  a place to stay on the farm for three to six months, while they work through their issues. During this time, they work on the farm daily with the horses and learn how to care for them. Once they graduate, they can then get a job in the equine world.

O’Neill would like to expand Hillenglade’s offerings, but it’s been very difficult lately for many 501(c)(3) organizations. Because all of their programs are free for the veterans, first responders, and their families, their financial needs are great.

“We’re just hoping that people recognize the importance of  this program and help us to keep doing this,” she said. “These days, there’s a lot of need everywhere, but this is not frivolous. This is lifesaving.”

To donate, please go to their website at http://hillenglade.org/. They also need hard-working volunteers who are willing to groom horses, clean stalls, paint fences, and prepare for events. If you can help, please contact them for more information.

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Brentwood, TN.

Head to the shore, soak up some sun, and then go shopping


By Susan Baldani

With the warm weather coming, many of us will soon be heading to the beach. Soaking up the sun, splashing in the waves, and reading a book are great ways to spend a summer day. But, look around, and you will see there are many other things to do to have a great time while there, which allows you to support local businesses at the same time.

Many shore communities have small, often family-owned shops filled with unique and high-quality items that you may not be able to find closer to home. Candle stores, yarn shops, baby boutiques, and stationery stores are usually steps away from the sand and surf. Take some time to visit, say hello to the proprietors, and pick up some items to treat yourself, or to give as special presents for someone’s birthday or anniversary.

Sand, saltwater, and sun can also wreak havoc on your nails and skin. Stop in a local salon or spa and let yourself be pampered with a mani-pedi and facial. You will come back from the beach not only with a tan, but with lovely nails and glowing, vibrant skin as well.

Looking for something with a little more action? How about a game of mini golf or getting soaked at a water park? What kid (or adult) doesn’t enjoy getting a hole in one or gliding down a slide on an inner tube? Much more exciting than just lying on the beach.

Craving a bite to eat? Instead of bringing your own food in a cooler each time, check out what the local delis and mom-and-pop restaurants have to offer. Some of the best food can be found at the shore.  Tear into a lamb or chicken gyro or indulge in a creamy seafood pasta dish. And whatever you do, don’t forget dessert. Enjoy a delicious ice cream cone with sprinkles, funnel cake with powdered sugar, or a generous slice of home-made apple pie with a fresh dollop of whipped cream.

Quite a few of these treasured establishments rely on summer visitors to get through the entire year. Many of these places have been around for years and are considered the backbones of their shore communities.

Be sure to patronize these local shops and take advantage of all they have to offer so they can continue to flourish for many more years to come. And then, head back to your towel on the beach and take a long nap under the umbrella. Happy summer!

Written for the Country Register, published across the U.S. and Canada.

A Pet Pig Tale


From farm animal to family member

By Susan Baldani

Atticus, named for the noble Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, is a 400-pound pet pig who loves watermelon, pumpkins, and carrots. He also enjoys getting lots of love and attention from his humans.

His owner Jaime and her 5-year-old son live on 1.5 acres in Williamson County. Along with his two dog siblings George Clooney and Merci, cat sister Kiki, and goldfish Goldie, Atticus is a beloved member of the family.

“I love animals, and even though I’m originally a city girl, I’ve always loved farm animals,” said Jaime.

After she saw an ad for pet pigs, her interest was piqued. A friend introduced her to someone who had pet pigs so she could learn more about them.

When a family friend’s pig had a litter of piglets, Jaime went out and met Atticus and his parents so she could see how big he was really going to be.

“I waited until Atticus was 3 months old and 22 pounds before I brought him home,” she said. “Now, he’s 7 ½ years old and 400 pounds.”

Jaime said pigs can live 15 to 20 years, so it’s a big commitment. Just like with any other pet, it’s important to do your research before adopting.

“Atticus is a Vietnamese potbellied pig and at 400 pounds is considered mini,” said Jaime. “This is why so many pigs need to be rescued; there is no such thing as a teacup pig. Those are babies and then they get big. Adopting a pig is not something to do on a whim.”

Getting Atticus was the right decision for her and her family. Since she did her research, Jaime was well prepared for the care and responsibility of owning a pig.

“He’s super sweet to my son, and of course, I’m his mommy, so he loves me,” she said. “Pigs have the intelligence of 2-to-3-year-old children, and they’re stubborn, so you have to earn their love and attention. Sometimes he runs to you for scratches and other times he’ll stand 3 feet from you and grunt at you, expecting you to come to him.”

Jaime also mentioned that pigs are highly intelligent. She taught Atticus to sit down and turn around in less than 5 minutes. Of course, it was all food motivated. And Atticus, like most pigs, is extremely sensitive, so if you yell, you can hurt his feelings. She said he also holds grudges.

Not one for toys, Atticus instead prefers to nose around the property. He has a special designated area in her backyard, with a sturdy pig house about the size of a large doghouse, and a lovely fenced in back yard. He lives mainly outside, but will come in when it’s very cold or really hot, or when the lawn is being mown.

Jaime puts down hay throughout his pen, which is about 30’ x 30’, and Atticus also has access to the screened-in back porch. He doesn’t like to go for walks; he would rather just hang out in the yard.  And like a true pig, he likes to root around his pen.

“You want to keep them busy since they’re like toddlers, so I’ll sprinkle grapes or Cheerios throughout his pen, and he likes to find them,” she said. “I try to keep [the snacks] low in sugar.”

Like most other pets, Atticus takes naps during the day. Around 7:00 p.m., when he usually goes to sleep, he’ll retreat into his pig house or lie in front of it. In the morning, if Jaime isn’t awake by 8:30 a.m., he bangs on the back door, looking for his breakfast.

His vet comes to the house twice a year and the only maintenance he really needs, Jaime said, is to get his hooves trimmed. And since he’s a boy, his tusk also has to be tended to.

Besides pig food, which she soaks in water to ensure he stays hydrated, he also gets healthy scraps.

“My next-door neighbor is in love with Atticus, thank you Lord, because you always want your neighbors to love your pet, especially when it’s a pig. So, she brings him her leftover watermelon and carrots. All the neighbors actually love Atticus.”

If you’re thinking about adopting a pig, besides doing your research, Jaime recommends seeking out a reputable, local rescue organization and support the people who are out there every day rescuing animals. Also, be sure to check your town’s ordinances and/or your homeowner’s association’s regulations, since some places may not allow pet pigs.

Written for Franklin Lifestyle magazine in Franklin, TN.

Summer’s Here – Get Your Grill On


By Sue Baldani

How do you BBQ? Are you a charcoal fan or a gas griller? Apparently, there are two very different schools of thought on the way to cook meat and other foods in the great outdoors. Of course, there’s always the campfire option as well, but I’m talking about what most of us do on nice days in our own backyards.

For convenience, a gas grill is easier and faster, and just about anyone can use one. Charcoal, on the other hand, needs a somewhat skilled hand to get it going, and it does take a while for those black briquettes to turn gray and hot enough to actually cook food. And then, you have to carefully dispose of those used coals after waiting for hours for them to cool down. Otherwise, if you dump them in a pile of grass or leaves, you’ll have one of those previously mentioned campfires. That may be fine for toasting marshmallows, but neither your neighbors nor your local fire department are going to be happy about your unintentional bonfire.

Also, if you only grill once in a while and want to make a quick meal on the grill after work, then gas is faster. However, if you like having outdoors parties and don’t mind prepping ahead of time, then charcoal may be for you.

For taste, most diehard BBQ masters insist you need charcoal for that authentic smoky flavor that only comes from wood. Since charcoal is made from wood, they say it’s essential to use. Although, you can always add wood chips to a gas grill to get some of this flavor as well.

Preference also seems to depend on the food being grilled. Most people agree that hamburgers and hot dogs taste fine on both grills, but many others insist that steaks grilled over charcoal cannot be beat. Also, if you are grilling larger pieces of meat like a whole chicken that benefit from slow roasting, charcoal will give that stronger smoky flavor every time.

Gas grills are more expensive up front than many charcoal grills, and propane isn’t cheap either. Hooking it up to a natural gas line is usually the best bet, since it’s economical and you don’t have to worry about running out of propane in the middle of a party. But, you can’t pack them up and take them to the park or beach. Charcoal grills can hit the road with you.

When deciding on the type of grill, you also have to consider where you live.  If you have a small patio in an apartment building, the smoke billowing from a charcoal fire and into other units may not be the best way to make friends with your neighbors, and it may be against the rules as well. It’s also not safe, but then neither is a gas grill, which can flare up. All grills should be a safe distance from any structure, and if that can’t be done, an electric grill can be used as a last resort. But let’s face it, that’s not really grilling.

Written for The Country Register – published across the United States and Canada.

Let’s Stay Vigilant Against COVID-19

Two ambulances

People are starting to let their guards down. You can see it on social media with photos of family members gathered in backyards for barbeques, and in snapshots of teenagers hugging and high- fiving at graduation parties. However, COVID-19 is still here, and we are still officially in a pandemic. Yes, our numbers are way down, but other states are seeing a resurgence, and that can easily happen here as well.

In New Jersey, in addition to wearing masks and staying six feet apart indoors, wearing a mask is  also now mandated while outdoors when not able to maintain social distancing. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s important to wear masks correctly by following these steps:

  • Wash your hands before putting on your face covering
  • Put it over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin
  • Try to fit it snugly against the sides of your face
  • Make sure you can breathe easily

The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad is still actively answering calls for suspected COVID-19 cases. Most people on the front lines continue to see it every day, and many of us now know someone who has been infected and/or who has possibly died from COVID-19 complications.  There’s no doubt that our state has been able to flatten the curve to an amazing degree, but even one death is one too many for the family and friends of that loved one.

People are missing their family members and friends as well as the normalcy of everyday life. This pandemic has turned our lives upside down, and it’s understandable that people want to regain some sense of control. But, it’s important to continue to follow the guidelines to keep others safe. Our EMTs, doctors, paramedics and nurses are out there striving to meet the demands. Let’s continue to bring that demand way down, so they too can safely go home to their families.

Written for the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad and published in local outlets.

Life’s an Adventure


Glamping and camping in style

By Susan Baldani

Camping outdoors can be a lot of fun, but some people don’t like the idea of spending the night in leaky tents while sleeping on the hard ground. Morgan and Ashley Gliko, owners of The Flying Ham, came up with a way to incorporate camping with a little bit of luxury and a lot of comfort.  The Mount Juliet couple rent out 2015 Shasta Airflyte campers that look exactly like the original 1961 Airflytes, as well as glamping tents.

“These campers are called canned ham campers; they resemble a can of ham on its side,” said Ashley. “The Shastas are specifically known for their iconic wings on the back. We like fun names, and when we came up with The Flying Ham, we didn’t even consider anything else.”

Morgan and Ashley met when they were both in the U.S. Air Force. Now married for 15 years, they have two sons, 8-year-old Jack and 5-year-old Ben. In 2015, they were working long hours and decided to make a change in order to spend more time as a family. So, Morgan stopped working to stay home with their second child. Starting Flying Ham was a great supplement for their income and a way to share their love of these campers with others.

“I’m originally from Montana and we travel back and forth to Montana a couple times a year,” said Morgan. “This was one of the reasons we initially got the little red 16-foot camper.”

“People had such a great response to it,” said Ashley. “It brought so much joy to everyone and put a smile on their faces.”

They now own two 16-foot campers and a 19-foot camper. The smaller two feature a full-size bed in the front and a short twin in the back, which is perfect for a child. The larger one has a full bed in the front and another full in the back.

They all have the same amenities, which include stainless steel appliances, kitchen utensils, coffee makers, televisions, blue ray players, record players with records, and hammocks. Everything is included, even the pillows and bed linens. The campers also have air conditioning, heat, running water, and bathrooms with showers. All the comforts of home, in the great outdoors.

Last year, for the Bonnaroo Music Festival, they added tents to their rental business. All of them come with glamping gear décor and have rugs, vintage lanterns, radios, and whimsical twinkle light chandeliers. Cots, pillows, bed linens and sleeping bags are all provided, and yes, all have air conditioning.

“The nice thing about the tents is we can bring them right to your backyard and set them up,” said Morgan. “If campgrounds aren’t your thing, or if you just want something at home, the tent is perfect. The tents originally started with the Bonnaroo Music Festival and evolved to include other events and parties.”

They’ve even been used indoors, including at the Country Music Awards After Party at the Municipal Auditorium. Morgan said there are lots of different things you can do with them besides just camping; they’re very versatile.

The campers and tents have also been rented out for birthday parties, weddings and other events. Customers have also had campers delivered right to their driveways and used them as extra bedrooms for guests, especially around the holidays. In addition, because of their retro look, the Airflytes have been featured in quite a few photo shoots and music videos.

“What’s nice about the Flying Ham is that it’s a family business,” said Morgan. “We can do it together. Sometimes the kids come with me on deliveries, and sometimes we all go.”

If interested in renting one of these campers or tents, try to reserve at least one to two months in advance, especially during their busy months, which run from April through November. The campers are delivered to the destination, while tents can be picked up or delivered.

For those who would like to camp, there is a list of campgrounds on The Flying Ham website. Ashley said they often advise people on where to stay and the types of things available at local campgrounds, such as playgrounds and lakes.

Contact info:

The Flying Ham

P.O. Box 1361

Mount Juliet, TN 37121



Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

Keeping Our Minds and Bodies Healthy


squad 1

Susan Baldani

During this pandemic, the focus has been on keeping our bodies healthy, which is a priority. There are many guidelines to help us to do just that, including wearing masks, washing our hands, and maintaining social distancing. But, what about our mental health? Studies have shown that depression, anxiety and suicides are now at an all-time high.

Many factors contribute to these increases, including loneliness from self-isolation, loss of employment, fear for our families and our futures, and dismay at the economic impact to our country. The constant barrage of bad news in the media also heightens our sense of anxiety and sadness. For those who have battled COVID-19 or lost loved ones, and for the healthcare workers fighting on the front lines, these issues are compounded. Facing our own and others’ mortality can wear greatly on our mental health.

What’s been even more detrimental during this time is our inability to take part in activities that decrease stress, help us cope with anxiety, and bring us enjoyment. Playing sports, going to the gym or spa, getting together with friends, and being with our families often add to our sense of well-being. For many, these options are limited right now.

So, what can we safely do to maintain and improve our mental health? Here are some ideas:

  • Get outdoors. A change of scenery, along with some fresh air, keeps our minds active.
  • Walk, run, or bicycle around your neighborhood, or take a hike through some local parks.
  • Go to the beach. There is something about being near water that always makes us feel invigorated.
  • Connect with family and friends by phone or online. Just hearing loved ones’ voices provides an instant lift to our day, and if you can see their faces, even better.
  • Nothing gives us a better sense of accomplishment and joy than helping others who are less fortunate.
  • Reach out. If depression or anxiety become overwhelming, call your healthcare practitioner or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Help is always available; don’t hesitate to ask for it.

Contributing Author:  Susan Baldani, a life member of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.

From Roles to Rolls


An actor and foodie who is garnering awards on and off the screen

By Sue Baldani

Mitchell Anderson is used to getting accolades for his acting ability. A student of Julliard who began his acting career in 1983, he has been featured in many popular television, film and theater productions. His most current role is in After Forever, a digital series on Amazon Prime, for which he has been pre-nominated for an Emmy award.

However, Anderson’s most recent award didn’t have anything to do with acting, but with food. As the owner of Metro Fresh, with two locations in Midtown, he is what he calls a food nerd.

“I’ve always been a good cook and always loved that food brings people together and fosters conversation,” said Anderson. “You can kind of tell the story of life through food. That’s what I feel my whole career in show business is about –  telling stories and communicating with people.”

In 2001, he moved to Atlanta to be with his partner (now husband,) Richie Arpino, and to cultivate his interest in the restaurant business. Fortunately for Anderson, he was introduced to Jenny Levison, the owner of Souper Jenny cafes in Atlanta and former actress; they had an immediate connection.

“She taught me this artistic improvisational approach to creating soups and salads. Metro Fresh is very much in the image of Souper Jenny, with my own spin on it.”

Metro Fresh offers breakfast, lunch and nighttime dining options at both locations, and the focus is on what’s fresh and in season.

“The whole idea is to give people a three-meal-a-day dining option that is super creative, really healthy, and fast. That’s what I think I’m most proud of –  that we offer this quick dining option that is also a culinary experience.”

The menu changes every day, but one item has stayed exactly the same for the last 15 years. And this is the one that has won him an award in his role as a foodie.

Called Mitchili, it’s been named Weight Watchers Reimagined Favorite during Oprah’s 2020 Vision Tour.

 Although he didn’t get to meet Oprah, he was given two complimentary tickets to the Vision Tour and was able to join her along with the other 15,000 attendees. He was also encouraged to  incorporate the Weight Watchers favorite branding into his menu, which he was honored to do.

Anderson also wrote a cookbook, called Food and Thought, which can be purchased on the Metro Fresh website at https://www.metrofreshatl.com/.

“The cookbook is all about stories and the story of life. I wanted people to get to know me through the stories I write every day.”


(This recipe includes Hot Italian Turkey Sausage, so it will be a little spicier than the Metro Fresh version.)

– 2 Lbs. Ground Turkey
– 1 Lb. (About five links) Hot Italian Turkey Sausage – Casings removed
– 1 Large Red Onion Diced
– 1 each Red, Yellow, Green Pepper seeded and Diced
– 3 Large Cans Chopped Tomatoes
– 1 can each of Chili Beans, Great Northern White Beans, Kidney Beans and
Black Beans (Drain all except for Chili Beans)
– ¼ Cup Olive Oil
– ¼ Cup Chili Powder
– 2 TBS Ground Cumin
– 2 TBS Ground Coriander
– ½ Cup Dijon Mustard
– ¼ Cup Chopped Fresh Dill
– 1/2 Bunch chopped Cilantro
– Kosher Salt To Taste

In large stock pot heat olive oil and then toss in onions and peppers. Sauté until just tender, about five minutes over medium heat. Do not allow them to brown. Add Turkey Meat and Sausage and sauté until cooked through. Add dry spices and mustard. Continue to cook meat until it has turned the color of the chili powder. Add tomatoes and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add beans and cook over low heat for about an hour. Stir every once and a while so the beans don’t burn to the bottom of the pot. Add fresh herbs before serving and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Sour Cream and Cheddar Cheese if desired.

Serve it over white or yellow rice for an even heartier meal. This recipe of Mitchili will easily serve a nice crowd – perhaps 8-10 people.

Written for Midtown Lifestyle magazine in Atlanta,GA.

Shop local and keep our towns vibrant and strong

Shop local

By Susan Baldani

The Coronavirus has hit the country hard, and will unfortunately have lasting ramifications for quite some time. The economy has taken a severe hit, and many stores, especially those that are small and independently owned,  have either gone out of business or are struggling to survive. So, once this crisis is over, what can we do to help?

Next time you’re out, take a stroll around your downtown. Look closely at the local businesses to be found there. We often drive by without giving them a second thought. In addition to the stores you may already patronize, focus on those you may never have taken the time to visit. Speak to the owners and salespeople and find out what they have to offer. You never know what you might find. If you see something you like, buy it, and then tell other people about it.  Spread the word about these fine establishments –  word of mouth is an effective form of advertising and doesn’t cost anything. I’ve often visited places because someone told me how wonderful the products and service were in those particular shops.

Pay careful attention to the advertisements in this and other local publications to find out what they actually have to offer. If some shops don’t exactly fit what you’re interested in or are selling things you don’t usually buy, try to support them anyway. For example, if you’re not a knitter but know someone who is, buy special yarn and needles as gifts from those shops that sell them. If you have never gone antiquing, but love the look of old and solid furniture, browse what these types of stores have in stock. If you’re a novice, you can also get all  your questions answered about particular pieces or styles you’re interested in. The owners and salespeople in these small stores are usually very knowledgeable about their businesses.

Many of these local mom-and-pop stores have been fixtures in their communities for ages. The proprietors, some going back generations, have worked hard for countless years to build up their businesses and develop loyal customer bases.  Small towns just wouldn’t be the same without them.

So, let’s show our support for these neighborhood treasures that can be found all across the country, in small towns and large, by buying locally and encouraging others to do the same. You’ll not only be doing a great service, but also have fun finding some unique and quality items to enjoy for years to come.

Written for The Country Register published throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The art of being in the right place at the right time

Justin Lyons

How chance encounters led to wide spread recognition of an artist’s talent

By Sue Baldani

Besides talent and hard work, Justin Lyons’ success as an artist can also be attributed to serendipity. His story reads like a late-night movie or a best-selling book.

Lyons was in his late 20s when a friend, Jeremy Lynch (now a film maker in California), introduced him to wheatpasting in 2005. Combining paper, paint and drawings, wheatpasting is a type of street art that is affixed to public spaces using a mixture of flour, water and sugar. Painting on discarded wood, Lyons would hang his unsigned works all over Fort Walton Beach, FL, where he was living at the time. When they began disappearing, he assumed the city was taking them down.

He persevered though and one night, about eight months later, he was preparing to hang another piece of work when he ran into a restaurant owner in town. After noticing the painting in the back of his truck, she told him she had some of his other pieces hanging in her restaurant and asked if she could have this one as well. In return, she offered him not only a generous meal at the restaurant, but also the opportunity to show his work there. Three months later, with the help of Lynch, he did just that, and sold 15 of his 20 pieces.

A few years down the road, he got married and had kids, so making art for a living got put on hold. But, by 2012, he was once again painting heavily and showing his work at art fairs and local art shows. Soon, he was able to open a small studio and gallery in Santa Rosa Beach, FL, where he lives with his wife Kayla and children, Seven, Isla and Lynox.

Not too long after that, another chance meeting took place that would expand his reach greatly into the art world. A woman, on her way to dinner, was walking by his gallery when she ducked under the awning to get out of the rain. Liking what she saw through the window, she went inside and introduced herself as an art consultant in Miami. After looking around some more, she asked if she could show some of his paintings at Art Basel Miami. He said yes, and after that show in 2014, he was picked up by multiple galleries. His art career had taken off.

Over the years, Lyons has refined his style and does not consider himself a street artist anymore. Instead, he said, he’s a self-taught contemporary and expressionism artist.

What initially drew him to art in the first place was the self-expression aspect of it. “That was always my baseline, to paint things that are personal to me,” said Lyons. “My goal is to paint what I feel drawn to or something that makes a statement. I always liked the visual of simple, childlike art, but wanted to merge that imagery with something with a deeper meaning. So the visual is childlike, but the message is more intellectual.”

Common in his artwork are words and phrases that spring into his mind when he’s creating. Lyons will also often change his thoughts and then cross out words and replace some with others. Instead of covering them up and starting fresh, he likes leaving the changes showing.

“When I’m doing up layers, I’m writing things that are spontaneously in my head,” he said. “It’s an immediate thought, but then I might change my mind.”

As far as materials go, Lyons is open minded and uses what feels right at the time, whether it’s wood, acrylic, oil stick, spray paint, house paint, epoxy resin, or pencils.

“I’m just like anything goes; it’s more about the story than the sophistication of the paintings. I’m more interested in the deeper meanings of things and how they can make people question things or feel a certain way. The message aspect of it is what originally drew me to art.”

He does find people’s interpretations of his paintings interesting. “I’ve heard the gamut, honestly,” he said. “Some people are on the same page as I am. Others say, ‘Well, I get this from it,’ and, I’m like, ‘Yeah, okay.’ I try not to say ‘Hey, this is what it is,’ or ‘I didn’t mean that,’ because I think it ruins it for people.”

When he first started out, a waitress who worked in the restaurant where his art was hanging called him in tears to let him know about the connection she had with one of his paintings and the way in which she interpreted it. Even though he didn’t see that message, he was glad it worked for her in her own personal way.

Atlanta residents will soon get to interpret Lyons’ art for themselves. He has a show at the Maune Contemporary gallery in April where he will display about 15 to 20 of his pieces. The gallery, which opened in September 2019, is owned by Ramsey and Heidi Maune.

“When they approached me to be represented by them, I was actually also being approached by a few other galleries in the area, and I was going back and forth to see where my best fit would be,” Lyons said. “When I walked into the Maune gallery and met Heidi and Ramsey, they were just the coolest people and their gallery space was beautiful.”

He went on to say that even though the other gallery owners were in the business a lot longer than the Maune’s, that wasn’t important to him. It was that he believed in their vision for their gallery and artists.

‘They’re awesome people who are just so nice and generous. They really believe in my work, and not only have shown it with words, but tangibly by being uber supportive,” he said.

Even though he has a few collectors in Atlanta, this will be his first show in the city, as well as in the state of Georgia.

“I’m excited; I love Atlanta,” he said. “It has a cool vibe to it, and I have a lot of friends in Atlanta.”

He said he will work with Heidi and Ramsey to determine the right pieces for the show.

“Location does matter, but the stuff that I make is more about storytelling, so I don’t try to box myself in with geographical locations,” he said. “I just try to make paintings that humans can relate to. Whether they’re white collar, blue collar or no collar, I just try to make art that people can make a connection with.”

When choosing paintings for a show, he also collaborates with his wife, who is also his business partner. He said that she helps run his business and knows the ins and outs of the industry. In addition to selling his pieces, Lyons also donates his artwork to local non-profit organizations and fundraisers.

“I’m constantly in my studio and I paint every day,” said Lyons. “I just like doing it and I’m so grateful and lucky that people have found my stuff.”

To learn more about Justin Lyons, his art, and the gallery, go to http://www.maune.com/and to jlyonsart.com/” And, be sure to visit Maune Contemporary gallery this April to see his work in person.

Written for Midtown Lifestyles in Atlanta, GA.