Cover Stories

Tim Ames’ Life Is a Work of Art —and Then Some

By Stefan Yablonski

Tim Ames and Michele Southgate, along with other local artists, wanted a cooperative shop in the Oswego area that would provide artisans with a gallery-like space where they could display their work, but also make the items available for sale.

Prior to starting the artists’ co-op, Ames was the owner and operator of the popular Rockin’ Robin restaurant in Oswego.

“Before that, I was in the entertainment industry as a singer, as well as the hospitality business in California,” he said.

In 2010, he entered his business plan into the Next Great Idea contest and won the $25,000 prize to start an artists’ co-op in Oswego, where he served as president and business manager from 2011 until he retired in 2017.

The shop opened as Lakeside Artisans at the Canal Commons, but the name was later changed to Riverside Artisans.

It has moved to the front of the building at 191 W. First St. The shop now has more space and large windows that face the busy street.

Ames and Southgate have moved on to other endeavors.

“We opened for business in March 2011. After six years, two heart attacks and a cancerous kidney removal, I decided it was time to retire and turn over the reins of Lakeside Artisans,” he said.

It was a difficult decision to leave something he instigated and loved, he admitted.

“Ocean Wave Series, #2.” Acrylic on hardboard…Inspired by summer excursions (before the pandemic) to Cape Cod.

“But I knew that it was in good hands with the member artists. I was right, as it’s still going strong today as Riverside Artisans,” he said.

Since he retired, Ames, 81, has spent time traveling, playing with his dogs and developing his painting style. His style could be called “a combination of impressionism and realism,” he said.

“Although I don’t spend as much time painting as I use to, I think that I have been able to improve my techniques. I have been lucky enough to have entered and been accepted into some national competitions, where I have won some awards and even sold a couple of paintings,” he said. “My painting medium of choice is the fast-drying, water-based acrylics as opposed to the slow-drying time required of oil paints. My acrylic paintings and painting style, however, are hard to distinguish from oil paintings.”

His eastside Oswego home serves as an art gallery. A lot of his paintings depict scenes from Cape Cod.

“I spend a lot of time in Cape Cod,” he said, pointing to several paintings. “That’s Cape Cod. That’s Cape Cod. That’s Cape Cod up there.”

Dunes — a beach and seascape scene — was selected and purchased for display in the new patient recovery building of Upstate Hospital, Nappi Wellness Institute. It was inspired by one of his many trips to Cape Cod.

Several other paintings are familiar visages of the Port City. Included are places like SUNY Oswego’s Rice Creek trails. He was commissioned by the Friends of Fort Ontario, to paint portrait of the historic warship, USS Oneida, which was built in the Oswego Shipyards, to commemorate its historic role in the War of 1812. It has been on a revolving display throughout New York state.

“I also painted a half dozen or so chicken paintings. People are crazy about chicken paintings. I don’t know… When I do paintings, I like to do series; so that it is actually a part of this [painting].”

The paintings are hung around several large fish tanks — in just about every room. Mostly all guppies — “hundreds, actually. I don’t like the really big fish,” he added.

“Winter in the Adirondacks” Acrylic on hardboard. One again, inspired by the beauty in the Adirondacks near Old Forge.

His dog, Shadow, likes to snap at the fish through the glass, Ames laughed.

“He’s a mix – part husky and part golden retriever,” he said. “I can’t imagine life without a dog”

He pointed to a dining room set he had painted (as well as other furniture). “They stopped making this set in 1970. I looked it up on Google. This table and the buffet is worth $2,000. And I painted it. It was a little more than $2,000 actually,” he recalled with a smile.

Also displayed among the memorabilia is an old 45 he recorded.

“From entertainer to a restaurant owner — that’s the path a lot of entertainers follow — entertainment to service industry,” he said.

A question most painters often get and is impossible to answer is: How long does it take to do a painting?

“I have been able to satisfactorily complete a simple, small painting, in a few hours. However, a more complicated subject could take weeks or even months to complete,” he said. “I actually have paintings that I have been working on for years.

“Leonardo da Vinci once said, ‘Art is never finished, only abandoned.’ I think every artist knows this to be true. Knowing when to quit a painting is an art unto itself. There comes a point in the process that an artist runs the risk of overworking, and thereby ruining the artwork.”

Ames is continuing to work on his style.

“I’m trying to loosen up, as they say in the business,” he explained.

He has a large — very large — collection of brushes.

“I have twice as many over here,” he said pointing to a table behind his easel.

You can only use one at a time.

“There’s a thing about brushes and artists, you never throw away an old brush — you never can tell when it might come in handy,” he added.

“A couple of years ago, I had planned to open a fine arts showroom, showcasing my own work as well as other fine artists, which would have been a complement to the artisans co-op. Unfortunately, the pandemic deemed otherwise. My works can be seen on my website,, or by special appointment at my home art gallery,” he said.

“At the age of 55, I tried painting to help relieve the stress of operating my restaurant, The Rockin’ Robin, and it was love at first brushstroke,” he recalled. “I have had no formal art training, but to say that I’m self taught would be stretching it a bit, since I have been aided by an accumulation of books and recorded lessons by some great artists and teachers.”

He began with oils, but gravitated to acrylics, “which I found more suitable to my style of painting the landscapes and waterscapes of Upstate New York and Cape Cod.” He said. “I finally gathered up the nerve to enter my first competition and, surprisingly, my painting of Salmon River Falls won an award. Since then, my work has won in excess of 60 awards in regional, national and international art shows.”

Ames will continue to ply his craft. Finding more wall space might pose a problem, he chuckled.

Top image: “Grassy Dunes on Cape Cod,” inspired by many trips to Cape Cod. Recently selected and purchased by Upstate Hospital for display in their new Nappi Wellness Center