In the fall of 2014 Peter and Meryl Tryon travelled to Mexico for a vacation and left their Qualicum Beach cafe in the care of their daughter, Erienne.
They returned to discover their beloved family business had become an art gallery.
“I had absolutely no idea what to expect,” said Meryl Tryon, co-owner of the Courtyard Cafe. “It was a fantastic surprise.”
The gallery of approximately 50 paintings features work by the Paint Pals, a group of about a dozen mid-Island artists co-founded by Linda Hudson and Wayne Brown about four and a half years ago.
Hudson also happens to be a patron of Courtyard Cafe and a friend of Meryl Tryon, and the two women began discussing the possibility of displaying Paint Pals art earlier in 2014.
“The Paint Pals had offered to put up one or two of their paintings,” Tryon said.
“Oh, I don’t think ‘one or two’ was ever mentioned,” Hudson interrupted with a laugh.
The Tryons moved to the region from Grande Prairie and opened Courtyard Cafe on Memorial Avenue in March, 2011. Initially, its walls boasted original art the couple had brought with them or had donated to them by Meryl’s brother, who runs a framing shop in Victoria.
By 2014, the cafe was due for a new paint job, and Meryl and Peter put their daughter in charge of the project during their Mexico vacation.
“Our walls were getting tired,” said Tryon. “They needed paint anyway, so what better time to do this?”
Hudson and Brown had each of the Paint Pals bring five works, from which the gallery display was selected. It proved an immediate hit for Courtyard Cafe’s owners and customers, and has resulted in periodic sales for the artists, most of whom were recently students.
“This type of venue is good, because people don’t come in for the art,” said Hudson. “But we’ve sold a lot. Every artist wants to have an area they can hang their work.”
The gallery is changed every six months, and when a painting is sold, another piece is promptly put in its place by the artist who made the sale.
“We get extra business when the pictures are changed out,” said Tryon. “The first two or three weeks afterward, we get a big crowd.”
The Paint Pals hail from communities from the Comox Valley to Nanaimo, with most living in the greater Parksville Qualicum Beach area. Most were art student of Lloyd Major, said Hudson, until Major moved from the area.
“A group of us wondered, ‘What are we going to do?’” said Hudson. “Then Wayne said, ‘I’ll find a venue if you find the artists.’ Well, that was easy enough.”
In addition to Hudson and Brown, the Paint Pals currently include Astrid Davidson, Rick Davis, Vera Dover, Rita Gibson, Sharon Green, Maureen Hill, Michele McIntosh, Merrily McKeown, Adriana Roque, Patricia Spence and Marlene Stuber.
The group initially met weekly in a working studio at the McMillan Arts Centre, but have since moved to a studio space in Nanoose Bay to save on rental costs. Each Friday, members who are able to attend gather to work on individual projects and share advice.
“If it’s critique time, everyone stops what they’re doing to go look,” said Hudson. “Technically, we’re all students.”
The partnership between the Paint Pals and Courtyard Cafe involves no rent or other fees, Hudson and Tryon said. The artists get a popular public meeting place to display their work on a steady basis, and the cafe gets an eye-catching display that Tryon said also generates a lot of conversation.
The varying styles of the artists create a diverse gallery with a mix of subject matter, technique, size and media.
Last summer, the Paint Pals also appeared at Courtyard Cafe for a Painting on the Patio session, a popular draw they will repeat this year.
“It’s nice, because the artists are able to bring their friends in to see their paintings,” said Tryon. “And we’ve had quite a few of those friends bring in other friends, and they have coffee or lunch while they’re hear. It’s a win-win.”