Ex-lobsterman's art decorates Cape Ann

By Kristen Grieco , Correspondent
Gloucester Daily Times
Published: July 16, 2007

link to Times story


The lobster that Robert Viau was assembling was a far cry from the ones he'd been pulling from the ocean six years ago.
This lobster was actually a red wooden lawn chair, each arm sculpted into a crustacean claw. Viau, 54, who once held a day job as a lobsterman with Rockport Lobster Co. in Gloucester, has managed to turn his passion for art, photography and sculpting into a full-time job and now owns StudioVO on East Main Street.
Nautical influences touch many of Viau's pieces, a product of his 15-year residency in Gloucester.
"Even something as obscure as a cat portrait is influenced by my surroundings," Viau said.
He grew up "all over," spending his high school years in Weymouth and eight years in the Navy after that, he said. In 1985, Viau graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art, trained as a sculptor, and within a few years discovered that he couldn't make much money at it.
In 1992, he made art a secondary pastime and began lobstering full-time, thankful for a steady job with benefits. For nine years, during which he met his wife, Deej, 47, and had two sons, Viau fished. Then, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 happened.
"The planes didn't fly, and we didn't ship," Viau said. "So it was either close the doors or let me go, because I was the fat of the company."
Unemployment became an opportunity for Viau when his wife, a dance and theater teacher, urged him to give up fishing and concentrate on art.
"I said, 'if we have to start over, you may as well do something that you love,'" said Deej Viau, her husband's self-proclaimed cheerleader and business networker. Six years ago, Viau closed the door on fishing and opened the doors to StudioVO. He made $6,000 in his first year as a full-time artist.
Things have drastically improved since, as Viau's fingerprint has appeared all over Cape Ann.
"He's a talented guy and he really loves what he does," said Jeannie Sudbay, owner of Cape Ann Lanes. She hired Viau to create her animated bowling logo three years ago, and she calls the branding "hugely successful."
The logo at Rockport National Bank, the copper roses on the Rose Baker Senior Center and the "Carry In, Carry Out" signs painted at Good Harbor and Wingaersheek beaches, along with dozens of other murals, sculptures and logos around Cape Ann, were all designed and installed by Viau.

When his wife suggested that Viau open the studio, it wasn't the first time her instincts changed his life. Twelve years ago, when Deej Viau was working in her family's South Shore restaurant and teaching dance, she spotted Viau on the dance floor of a friend's 40th birthday party.
"I was eye-spying him," she said. He asked her on a date soon after. "When I opened the door on our first date, I just knew," Deej Viau added.
On Deej Viau's second trip to Gloucester for a date with Viau, less than a week later, he proposed. They were married within five months.
"I'm not that impulsive. People are going to think I'm impulsive," said Viau as his wife recounts their courtship. Their banter reveals the balance in their relationship: he's the shy and modest one while she's outgoing and talkative, the marketing face of StudioVO.
Viau's most recent project was the copper roses that adorn the Rose Baker Senior Center. He took apart a rose and sculpted each piece from a blown-up version of the original, rebuilding the flower one petal at a time.
"We wanted something that was very unique," said Coral Grande, director of the Gloucester Council on Aging, which commissioned the roses. "We wanted to make sure that the signage reflected the kind of senior center that it is. We really and truly have the best (senior center) art department in the state."

With the roses, Viau is attempting to steer his corporate work into the sculpture realm again. He has passed his love for three-dimensional art to his sons, Greer, 10, and Dylan, 8. Boxes of toys, wood and kid-sized tools are stored under a work bench in the red oceanside shed on East Main Street that StudioVO calls home.
The boys say they intend to one day start a studio branch called Chisel Wizzle. When asked when their first pieces will go on sale, Greer answers with a thoughtful frown, "Probably in about two years."
Dylan's dad can tell him that building a good studio takes some time - and sometimes a diversion from Gloucester's fishing industry as well. But Viau said he is finally recognizing success doing what he loves.
"There's no comparison," said Vaiu of the transition from fishing. "I'm doing better now than I was when I was throwing lobsters into a box."

Those interested in Viau's work can call 978-282-0269 or visit www.studiovo.com.