The heart — and art — of aviation

Sam Lyons is an institution. You might go so far as to say he is a brand name. So much so that in 2010 Sun ’n Fun created an Artist in Residence position and awarded it to Sam.

He and his wife, Mindy, now live in Lakeland, Florida, home to Sun ’n Fun, and enjoy an official, and much appreciated, relationship with one of aviation’s proudest institutions.

“When you think of airplanes you don’t necessarily think of art first,” says John Burton, president of the Florida Air Museum, which is on the campus of the Lakeland-Linder Regional Airport, home to Sun ’n Fun. He’s largely correct, too. Yet, anyone who flies or has an affection for aircraft knows that the lines of a machine built to live in the air can strike a heartstring or two, especially if the lighting is just right.

Burton goes on to say, “It’s a perfect marriage having Sam Lyons involved here with the Florida Air Museum.” Sam certainly brings an intangible to the facilities in a way that sheet metal and steel tubing cannot. There is no doubt that his way with imagery, color, and light will enhance the drawing power of both Sun ’n Fun and the museum, two very separate entities, that are nonetheless linked in the minds of aviation enthusiasts the world over.

More than a year after the Artist in Residence position was created, Sun ’n Fun, the Florida Air Museum, and Lyons are all working to more specifically define the relationship they share. But there is no doubt that the partnership is a good one that everybody involved sees as mutually beneficial.

Art has played a role in aviation since before man could fly. The desire of humans to be airborne was so strong, in fact, that history is filled with sketches, drawings, and plans for aircraft. Whether it was Leonardo Da Vinci pouring out his genius onto parchment, or an anonymous 5th grader doodling during class, the sky and the machines that can take us there have a place in our hearts. They always have.

Lyons knows the appeal of the pencil, and the pen, and the brush. And he knows how to make the most of those tools as he works to express himself visually.

“I kind of piddled with it as a kid,” he acknowledges. Now, after more than 25 years as a professional artist specializing in aviation, his name is recognizable from coast to coast, and beyond.

“My dad was a B-24 bomber pilot in World War II,” he explains. “He got me hooked on airplanes early on.”

Like so many of us, that affection for aviation took many forms over the years. He built models as a kid, a talent that stuck with him over the years. So much so that Lyons eventually went on to own a hobby shop where he could build and paint model airplanes to his heart’s delight, while enjoying years worth of social interaction with his customers.

It was while he owned the hobby shop that Lyons first began to take the idea of becoming a full time artist seriously. The idea grew until it eventually became his reality. “I tell people I’m a 25-year overnight success,” he says, cheerfully.

The artist’s interest in aviation isn’t purely theoretical, however. He’s a pilot and knows what it feels like to live with the wind beneath your wings. He flew gliders initially, then transitioned into powered flight later on. He’s owned three Piper Cubs, a Stinson 108, and a Hatz biplane. Lyons doesn’t just paint aviation scenes, he feels them and challenges himself to bring that warmth and romance to life for the benefit of others who also might have dreams of flight.

Of classic airplanes Lyons says nostalgically, “That’s where my heart is.” A quick glance through his body of work confirms it. Lyons loves to paint tube and fabric classics, warbirds in flight, and gleaming aluminum fuselages that reflect the viewers soul every bit as accurately as the sunlight reflecting off them.

His latest piece is titled, “Amelia’s Wheels.” It depicts Amelia Earhart standing atop her Lockheed Vega after landing in Ireland at the completion of her solo Atlantic crossing (see separate story). The finished painting hangs in the Lyons’ home in Lakeland. “We have lots of Sam’s art hanging in our house,” says Mindy.

While Sam sketches, paints, and does research for each painting, Mindy acts as his affectionate and very capable business manager. “She’s in charge,” Sam jokes. In a more serious moment he suggests, “She’s a very big part of this thing.”

Lyon’s artwork is priced at up to $12,000 for a full size original painting. Less expensive options can put his art in your home for considerably fewer dollars, however. Prints can be had for as little as $35, with most limited edition prints priced at $145, and include the artist’s signature.

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  1. Lmaynard says

    I am a big fan of Sam Lyons.  Have one of his paintings in my hanger and used to see him occasionally when he lived in the Atlanta area.  However, I would go light on any positive comments about Sun-In-Fun.  They exist solely to make money for the folks who put on the show which gets worse and more expensive every year.

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