It’s late May and Erik Beerbower’s backyard garden is thriving. But unlike his neighbors, whose labor may fruit lilies or tomatoes or herbs, his garden is made of metal.
A towering yellow sunflower shoots out of the ground and hovers along the fence, casting its ray-like petals to the sky. Nearby, a triad of circular windows with primary-color panels cuts the lawn in two, inviting visitors to peek through their negative spaces. In front of a tucked garden, smaller metal flowers of blue and red bloom as if attempting to blend into the natural space around them.
“Pretty much all of these pieces are stuff I made staying at home,” explains the sculptor as he gives a tour of his backyard. “My wife and I both teach at New Garden Friends School, and we both transitioned over to remote learning, so I do remote learning ’til noon, and then I build sculpture in the afternoons…. It’s really enabled me to start mass-producing some pieces.”
Beerbower has been making art for the last 35 years. He started out by creating sculpture from clay and went on to found Lyndon Street Artworks, now known as the 205 Collective, in 2003. Many of his works, which tend to be large scale, can be seen around the Triad in downtowns or even in areas of the Triangle.
One of his pieces includes a waterfall fountain sculpture tucked across the street from Crafted on Elm Street in Greensboro. While Beerbower has always been a prolific creator, often taking commissions for city parks and other common spaces, recently, due to the pandemic, Beerbower has ramped up his production. In the past three months, he and his assistant, have created close to 200 individual pieces.
He says he’s been using art as a form of therapy.
“I love the actual process of making sculpture,” he says. “When I put my welding helmet on, everything goes away. I don’t know that I’m in a pandemic. I don’t know that I can’t see my friends.”
A stark-white storage unit sits in Beerbower’s front driveway, a home for dozens of his smaller creations. Inside, a frog born from scraps of metal and nuts and bolts, catches flies while a bright red snail sits patiently on the shelf below.
Soon, the artist will be selling most of his new pieces in an online auction that will partially benefit his school. He’ll be conducting a Zoom walkthrough of his backyard to show off each piece. The ultimate goal, Beerbower says, is to breathe life into people’s outdoor living spaces.
“I thought that during this whole time, people are going to want to start seeing the value of making their homes and backyards a real special place,” he says. “Art always fulfills that role. That’s why I started creating these pieces, to make people feel happy and good about staying at home.”
Back outside, in addition to the blue, red and yellow circular windows and the 12-foot sunflower, Beerbower’s moon doors continue to show off the artist’s penchant for creating large-scale pieces.
The two semicircular metal frames that greet visitors as they enter the artist’s backyard act as gateways into a new realm. Not unlike the organic movement seen in Paris’s Art Nouveau metro signs and doorways, Beerbower’s entrances feature sprouting vines with delicate leaves that add whimsy to the steel.
“Chinese moon doors represent happiness,” Beerbower explains. “I love the idea that our lives ebb and flow. We have sorrow, and we have joy just like the tides go in and go out because of the moon.”
The pieces portray a feeling of feng shui in the artist’s yard, actualized through the curvature of the sculptures and the clean lines that intersect them.
“When you see it, it’s not static,” he says. “Subconsciously, your eye moves from one point to another. I think that’s always a good sign of good art. When your eye moves throughout a piece, it makes you want to look at it from different angles.”
While many of Beerbower’s creations fulfill an aesthetic yearning, others are also functional in nature.
Two crescent-shaped hammock holders rest side-by-side next to a bench with a large pinwheel. Beerbower walks over to one of the hammocks and climbs inside. As the structure adjusts to the introduction of weight, it rocks gently back and forth before settling into place. The artist folds his arms back around his head and smiles. The piece is intended for individuals who want to relax but don’t have any trees or structures to hang hammocks from. A few minutes later, his daughter comes out to the backyard and crawls into the other hammock. One of Beerbower’s hens clucks around the corner while his cat, Stella, saunters towards him; it’s a peaceful sight.
“Every one of these pieces is based on me. Like, What I would want staying at home if I had to stay at home for like another three or four months?” he says. “I’d want to surround myself with awesome stuff.”
Beerbower hopes that his art creates the sort of zen-like atmosphere for others that he’s been able to achieve at home. And to do that, he’s going to keep making more art.
“I’ve been living with this stuff and making it and I don’t know,” he says. “I asked a friend, is there like a 1-800 number for like addicted artists because it’s like, ‘Hi my name’s Erik and I can’t stop making art.’”
To learn more about Erik’s art and find out more about the virtual walkthrough on May 26 and art auction, visit the website here.