Like a lot of romances, theirs started in a bar — but not in the way you might think.
“I was sitting at Wahoo’s with my sketch pad,” Erik Beerbower remembers, “and she came up and started critiquing my work.”
He had known the woman, then known as Maura Kern, was an artist as well, and that she taught art to elementary students in Charleston. She was trying to get a job in her hometown of Greensboro, at New Garden Friends School teaching art to K-8 students.
“I remember her telling me: ‘I don’t think I can get this job,’” he says. “I said, ‘I know you can,’ because this guy I was working on a project with was the guy she’d replace. It all just came together.”
She got the job, enabling her to move back to Greensboro, which meant the two could stop burning up the road to Charleston. This was in 2000; Erik was making art on his own, but would soon open Lyndon Street Artworks in downtown Greensboro, a warehouse that stacked together more than 35 artists’ studios, a gallery and performance space. The operation folded last year, leaving Erik in something of an existential and creative funk.
“At Lyndon Street we had this great sense of community,” he says. “When that vanished I felt this void.”
Then it was Maura’s turn to encourage him. She let him know about a job opening at her school, New Garden Friends, teaching art to the high school students.
“I always thought Erik would make a great educator,” she says.
“And I always thought I’d leave the educating to my wife,” he adds.
Now the two comprise the art department at New Garden Friends, one at the Upper School, one at the Lower School.
“It’s on two different campuses,” Erik says. “If we were right here in the same room…,” he glances at his wife, “it would be fine.”
Neither one could have imagined something like this when they married 13 years ago.
Erik has transformed the upper school’s art classroom into a working art studio. He’s teaching the basics like drawing and painting, but also incorporating woodwork and metalwork into his curriculum.
And he’s got them making the kind of big pieces that he used to build at Lyndon Street.
“The scale has gone from tiny wall stuff to outdoor campus pieces,” he says. “We’re doing a lot of large pieces. A couple of weeks ago I said, ‘Let’s build an eight-foot tall peace sign, like with the hands. They were like, ‘Yeah! Let’s do it!’” “It’s Erik’s first year, so he’s super excited,” Maura says. “He gets the kids really energized. The enthusiasm is catching.”
“I still have my creative outlet, “ he says, “except this time I’ve got a good group of people supporting me. Before I felt like a lot of people took advantage of me. Here I feel validated. The kids are responsive.”
He adds, “All of the kids from eighth grade who come to my class are amazingly prepared for it.”
Maura says she’s constantly creating in her classroom: painting, ceramics, crafting, sculpture and more.
“I just create all the time,” she says. “For K-8 you can imagine the wide range of skills.”
But, she says, the two haven’t collabo rated much since their children, 9-year-old Emmett and 7-year-old Esmae, came along.
“They’re the best things we ever created,” she says.