by Len Lear
A college professor told me many years ago that the minds of artistic people – painters, poets, dancers, sculptors, fashion designers, etc. – simply did not work the same as the minds of scientists, who are so much more analytical and literal and so much less creative. It was a rare person indeed, according to the erudite professor, who possesses an interest and a talent for both the arts and sciences.
If that professor were still alive, I would tell him about that “rare person indeed,” Mt. Airy resident Laura Kaderabek Eyring, 55, who has achieved distinction as both a fine artist (honors graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1987) and as a scientist (chemistry degree from Drexel University, 2001) and now works as an analytical chemist and draws at night while her husband and two children are asleep. (Eyring’s first children’s book, “Freeing the Birds,” is available through Morning Circle Media)
Eyring has an exhibit of her art in a show at the Cerulean Arts Gallery, 1355 Ridge Ave., near Center City, which opens Saturday, Dec. 14, 2 to 5 p.m., and continues through Jan. 12. From 1990 to 1998 she participated in numerous group shows, cafes and community art festivals while struggling to earn a living. She got tired of being a “starving artist,” however, and went back to college in 1998 to pursue a career that actually produces a regular paycheck.
“I knew I wasn’t going to make a living in art, but I didn’t care,” said Eyring, a native of Detroit who came to Philly with her family when she was 11 in 1975. “I was going to be miserable if I did anything else but paint. After art school I spent 10 years waitressing at the White Dog Café, cleaning houses on the side and painting every day.
“I showed my work in restaurants, libraries and eventually got into the Art Forms Gallery in Manayunk. I sold some work but never enough to give up restaurant work. Then in the late 1990s I broke my wrist in karate class and wound up in a cast for five months. It was my right hand so not only could I not waitress, but I couldn’t paint either. I was completely broke and barely paying my rent doing odd jobs for the elderly.
“Something clicked at that point, and I realized I was a bit tired of the Bohemian lifestyle. Once I returned to work, I signed up for a biology class at Philadelphia Community College. I was thinking I’d try and go to vet school (having absolutely no clue what that entailed). Well, I really struggled in biology. I got a tutor and did extra work and barely got a B. I was really depressed and thought I’d just drop out and adopt a few more cats.
“But I had already paid for the following semester (all on a credit card). I was set to take chemistry and algebra, and it was too late for a refund, so I thought, what the hell, might as well take the classes. And chemistry just clicked. It was so straightforward and logical, and everything made perfect sense. Math was even better. It was like doing puzzles all day. I also had a fabulous chemistry professor, Dr. Anna Marie Felup, who was also the aerobics instructor and had this great Hungarian accent.
“She encouraged me to pursue chemistry and said the job market was excellent. Luckily, math comes easily for me, so the course work was challenging but very engaging. I think for me the connection between art and chemistry/math is all about pattern. Finding and recognizing patterns is the same in a tangle of tree branches as it is in a chemistry process. Just find the pattern and understand how and when to apply it. Keeping a lab notebook was a lot like keeping a sketchbook: observe and document.”
Between Eyring’s second and third year at PAFA, she spent three months working as an illustrator in Haiti. She would follow agronomists and engineers looking for methods for planting crops to prevent topsoil from washing down the mountain. At the end of three months, she had a small booklet of drawings of trellises, roof gardens, rain barrels, terraces and retaining walls. The final product was given to farmers who (like most Haitians) can’t read and relied on the illustrations for all the information.
When she finished her chemistry degree, Eyring was hired by the Philadelphia Water Department in 2002. She works in their lab, testing drinking water, source water and water through all steps of the treatment process. “I met my husband (Adam) on the first day of work. We were both in the organic lab at the time, testing for things like trace herbicides, pesticides and solvents … We got married in 2003.
“We were in East Falls at the time but moved to Mt Airy 10 years ago when Tristan (son, born in 2004; daughter, Nadja, was born in 2006) was getting ready to start kindergarten. We wanted to use a public school, but the options in East Falls weren’t so good. Both kids were at Jenks from K-5, then at Our Mother of Consolation on Chestnut Hill Avenue for middle school.”