Shopping at Lyndon Street Artworks

by Brian Clarey

Shopping at Lyndon Street Artworks

Erik Beerbower, artist and landlord at Lyndon Street Artworks, tries to bring a business sense to the gallery and studio esthetic. With 42 artists toiling in 27 spaces, there is something for everyone on your Christmas list. Except gas cards. (photos by Brian Clarey)

I have a few tough customers on my Christmas list this year, including one sister who can buy whatever she wants and another who never buys what she needs. The latter sister is begging for something practical — if you’re reading this online, kid, be ready for a spoiler: You’re getting a gas card.

The former gives me an example to practice what I’ve been preaching for years: Oftentimes the best gifts are things you can only get in your own community, the one-of-a-kind items churned out every year by the area’s fine artists and craftsmen. “The thing about buying locally,” Erik Beerbower tells me, “it’s part of the loop economy. You’re keeping your money here in town.”

Beerbower is himself an artist, but also a landlord at the Lyndon Street Artworks where currently 42 artists occupy 27 studios in the grand old warehouse, partitioned off like dogs in a kennel, each creating her own personal version of a the perfect bone.

For my pruposes it’s the equivalent of the food court: one-stop shopping for a variety of items in differnt media by different artists. On the fringe of the gravel parking lot at Lyndon Street Artworks in Greensboro, a giant squid man built by local sculptor Trace O’Connor swims against the wind, his hair blowing back and tentacles trailing behind him. And when I say “big,” I mean it — the thing is six times larger than my car. And while my kids would definitely crap their pants if I brought this thing home, I don’t see how I could keep it concealed until Christmas Day.

“We have a ton of different stuff,” Beerbower tells me, moving quickly through the gallery where all the artists sell their work. “Jewelry. We have these cool candles Dai [Reese]’s been making from light bulbs. As far as pottery goes, this is the best place in town to get it. We fire it right in the parking lot.”

The shelves of the gallery teem with pots, vases, mugs and platters. A sake set catches my eye, but I’m not ready to commit yet. Also, the gift I buy for my sister must make it back to California in her luggage, so fragile pottery and thin glassware are out.

Beerbower’s got some ideas, though. He shows me one of his own pieces, made with scrapped metal, that he’s selling for $35. Reese’s candle holders, he says, go for about $10 a piece. “Yeah,” Reese says, “I’ve been kicking out the candles ’cause it’s Christmas time. People always buy candles.”

“Oh yeah,” Beerbower says. “It’s as old as fire.”

A woman named Julie McKnight is turning small panes of colored glass into jewelry in her kiln at the back of her studio.

“It goes up to1,350 degrees,” she says, “and it will get a bit liquid.” She knotslengths of silk twine around them and sells them for about $20 a piece. “Partof the problem,” Beerbower says, “is the perception that art isexpensive. We’ve got things for five bucks here.” He shows me a coffeemug, priced to move at $5.

There is jewelry made from leather andmotorcycle parts, flowers crafted from laboratory glass, hundreds ofpaintings, dozens of small sculptures and plenty of affordable odds andends that will help the artists make it through another Christmas. Beerbowerhimself is taking pieces of scrap metal and making Christmas treeornaments from them.

As I gather my presents, I wish I had a basket forall the small goodies. In the end I decide on one ofMcKnight’s jewelry pieces that looks like obsidian and turquoise, oneof Reese’s candleholders that looks like a fractured rose, a Beerboweroriginal tree ornament made from burnished copper. And I find theperfect gift for my sister who has everything she wants… except for thethings she doesn’t know she wants. Lori Bushell has anindustrial sandblaster set up in one of the Lyndon Street cells, whereshe etches glass, tile and stone to magnificent effect. For my sister —sorry, sis, snother spoiler — I choose a sturdy glass vase etched witha Celtic knot containing a single artificial flower. It iselegant and versatile. And really quite inexpensive at $25.

Beerbowerhimself tucks one of the artist’s business cards into the vase.

“Youshould always do that,” he says. “People will want to know who made it.”

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