Mark’s Local Interactions #4
Welcome to Mark’s Local Interactions, a series of blog posts highlighting local businesses. In this edition, I talk to Sarah and Caleb Jones of Jones Gallery and Studio.
Early last week I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down and chat with Sarah Jones and her brother Caleb.
Sarah and Caleb operate Jones Gallery and Studio on Duke Street in Saint John, and this dynamic duo has been making waves in more ways than one.
Sarah was interested in art even at a young age and was one of the first graduates of the IB Art Program at Saint John High. She furthered her studies in university, first studying History and then switching to Art History. Planning to work towards her Ph.D., her entrepreneurial spirit took over, and she opened her first studio on Germain Street in 2010. Two years later, she bought and renovated the building on Duke Street where she is now.
Sarah has been so successful that she is now at a point where she is “going full out now and barely able to produce enough work to fill these three places”.
Success is a regular occurrence in the Jone’s family, and Sarah is very quick to point to her brother.
Caleb, who is now part of the “family” business, has had his own string of wins. While Sarah was pursuing her art, Caleb was working on his own path in life as an athlete. He has won several Gold Medals as an athlete and holds three provincial records in the Javelin. He also won gold at the 2013 Canada Games and was the top Canadian in the World Junior Championship.
Due to chronic injuries, Caleb has recently retired from the sport, but his records still stand. Caleb is quick to point out that his successes are not just his, and gives tremendous credit to his coach, Dr. Earl Church, who has been coaching now for 50 years.
One thing I discovered during our chat was that Sarah and Caleb often travel together. In fact, when Caleb was as young as 10, he and Sarah would catch a train to Halifax to see the buskers.
In high school, when Caleb was 16, and Sarah was 22, they decided to backpack through Spain. Of course, the story Caleb told his teachers was slightly different – the story they heard was that Caleb was helping Sarah do “art history research”. So, while Caleb was in grade 11, he and Sarah spent a month wandering through Spain.
Sarah’s mother has also traveled with her. Her most recent paintings were the result of a trip to New York that the two of them took, while Caleb stayed in Saint John to look after the gallery.
Caleb’s role, according to Sarah (in her perpetual tongue-in-cheek manner), is the “task master, who has inherited mom’s tone of authority”. “It’s quite terrifying,” she says, laughing. “I’ll bring a painting down and ask him if he likes it, and he’ll sigh, and he’ll ask me to adjust this, this and this.”
“But,” she says,”what kills me is that he is always right … he’ll know exactly which ones people will like or respond to.” In fact, Caleb is often the one who makes the actual sales.
She recounts an art fair that they were at in Toronto 2 years ago where “he made all the sales … I would wander off to get a cup of tea and come back and say “well, I sold this, or I sold that’, and I’ll say ‘what did you do … what did you say’ …”.
Sarah finds that people often feel easier about talking to Caleb about her the art than her, the actual artist. In Caleb’s words “they can feel a little more open with me because they can talk about what they like and dislike”.
So, what does an average day look like for Sarah? In her words, “I treat the studio like a working day. I try to be there by 8 or 8:30, and then put in a full day.” Because Sarah works with oil, she doesn’t work on one painting all day. In fact, she often has up to 10 paintings on the go at the same time at various stages.
A lot of her time is actually put into the planning of her paintings. “So say I have a photo or sketch of this whole street, and then it’s like figuring out okay now what, or how am I going to position this on the canvas, or what size of canvas am I going to use, what details am I going to leave in or take out, so I work on a lot of composing the painting,”
She also spends a lot of time on commission work (which takes up about half of her time), preparing for gallery showings, and of course, the never-ending paperwork that comes with running a business.
I asked Sarah about the highlights of her career. The first one was buying the building on Duke Street where she is now and going full-time with her art. She had worked part-time for Enterprise Saint John as part of the Young Entrepreneurs Program while she was growing her business, but eventually had to leave as she became so busy with her art.
The second highlight was receiving her first creation grant from ArtsNB. The reason this meant so much to her was that it meant that, beyond being commercially successful, she was “artistically doing something worthwhile” and “pushing things.”
Sarah is very big on Social Media, and always strives to be authentic. “I want it to feel like there are real people here … I want people to engage with us”.
Sarah also had good things to say about the Telegraph-Journal and CBC. You may remember the series of paintings that Sarah created as part of taking Pip for a walk.
Not only did CBC end up writing an article on Sarah and Pip, but Hance Colburne ask Sarah to bring Pip into the studio, “so, here’s my 200-pound dog crawling under the table in the CBC studio”.
If you’ve ever met Pip, you know that definitely would have been a sight to see.
The one thing that I kept noticing throughout my entire chat with Sarah and Caleb was the connection that they have. Sarah kept recounting all the times that she and Caleb took trips together, including the time they went to France where Caleb competed at Jeux de la Francophonie and Sarah was part of a cultural competition as an artist.
It was also plain to see Sarah’s love and concern for her brother, and the decision of his retirement from the sport … “the wear and tear … he’s been in pain for a decade”.
Of course, since Caleb was sitting beside me, I had to ask Sarah if she was athletic at all. “Heck no,” she said, as her brother looked on and laughed. “He trains me once in a while, and it’s abysmal … I hate it. He tried to get me to do a squat once, and I said, yeah, that’s not gonna happen”. The laughter during the interview was contagious. “I walk Pip,” she says .. “that’s something.”
It’s embarrassing”, Caleb says, as he teases his sister.
All of this, of course, is said with a smile and a laugh. It’s not hard to see the love and respect that Sarah and Caleb have for each other.
Even though Sarah and Caleb have grown up taking different career paths, they both subscribe to the theory that success comes with hard work … “you have to buckle down and do the work … there are no shortcuts. We both concentrated on something specific”.
It’s apparent that this dynamic duo has gotten it right.
Mark Pridham is the owner of The Pridham Group, a digital agency based in Saint John, New Brunswick.
A life long resident of Saint John, Mark is passionate about supporting and promoting local businesses.