Prolific artist and teacher Pat Beréskin is in the midst of a transition as she prepares to move her gallery online and her art classes to Figge and the Family Museum in early August.
Although the riverside Beréskin Gallery & Art Academy has outgrown the teacher – affectionately called Mrs B by her students – she retains the same passion and humility that she has possessed for over three decades.
“I am the godmother of fairy art,” said Beréskin. “From Ms. B’s art, who started at the kitchen table with two kids over 30 years ago, moved to the basement, moved here to have the quality and scale, including the STEAM Lab, the Clay Lab. … A lifelong dream come true.”
Beréskin’s continued expansion of her craft has also led to an increase in her staff. Sam McCullum, founder and director of the non-profit organization STEAM on Wheels, teaches Science, Technology, Art and Math (STEAM) at Beréskin’s studio. One day in the summer of 2019, while distributing flyers, McCullum stumbled across Beréskin, who was hanging art near the Adler Theater. “I gave her a flyer for my class and she said, ‘Hey, I need this program on State Street,'” McCullum said. “And we haven’t looked back.”
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McCullum teaches everything from cooking camps to drone camps to 3D printing at Beréskin’s studio. He says it’s imperative to teach children practical skills from an early age, and he takes care to open students to the world of possibilities that lie ahead – just as Beréskin did for him.
“I’m neutral ground to go to college and also to go into commerce so I’m raising them (kids) in both,” he shared. “What you don’t know is what you don’t know. We just try to give the kids as many opportunities and Mrs. B. has really taken me under her wing and shown me how to really serve the community at home.”
McCullum is particularly passionate about serving the black community in the Quad Cities. Citing the I-74 bridge as an example, he said that if the members of the quad cities were trained in STEAM, there would be no need to seek outside expertise. He believes it all starts with giving kids the right resources.
Alongside Beréskin, McCullum has expanded his craft by teaching from 25 children a week to 150 children. McCullum believes the far-reaching impact of his work with individual students has enabled him to positively impact the larger community. “I improve people’s lives. I think that’s important,” he said. “I’m trying to build trust. I wish I had the confidence I have now at a younger age. And I think that’s really important, to know that you can break something instead of just throwing it away.”
Just as she has influenced her collaborators, Beréskin has had an immense impact on the lives and artistic careers of individual students.
Recent Davenport Central graduate and prospective St. Louis University Martha Barnds has been a Beréskin art class for 12 years. Although Barnds has an innate talent for art, Beréskin provided her with resources and expertise that fueled her growth as an artist – so much so that she will study studio art and art history at college.
“Ms. B. taught me almost everything I know about art,” she said. “She gave me the opportunity to explore a variety of mediums and techniques to challenge myself and further develop my creative process.”
Beréskin has strong belief in her students and their abilities, but she also believes in the larger Quad Cities community. Beréskin pointed to different artistic periods throughout history and noted the distinct artistic talent of the Quad-Cities.
“You look at areas in countries where there were artists who developed, who spoke and painted about the time, life and politics,” Beréskin said. “We have this bag right here in the Quad-Cities,” she said.
With such unshakable hope in her community, Beréskin is pleading with community members to support her gallery during its transition – what she calls her “exit strategy”.
“I try to leave it in good condition so that the community can enjoy it for many years after I’m gone and when it has run its course,” Beréskin said. “But part of that is any time in history where there’s been great suffering or difficult times, then there’s an artistic renaissance, and we’re there. And this area can be a part of that and support it by buying art.”
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