Gwendolyn Aqui-Brooks & Bernard Brooks
Life as an artist can be solitary at times, spending long hours in the studio perfecting your work. But not so for Bernard Brooks, 72, and Gwen Aqui-Brooks, 65, artists who celebrated their third wedding anniversary last week. The cheerful couple, both retired professional artists, will always find companionship in their shared studio in Washington, DC.
While their marriage is relatively young, their friendship is not. They first met 45 years ago when Mr. Brooks worked with the father of Mrs. Aqui-Brooks, who was the chief curator at Howard University. As their careers progressed, they exhibited at many of the same shows and kept in touch. However it was not until a few years ago that a fateful exchanging of art led to their courtship.
Mr. Brooks and his cousin went over to Mrs. Aqui-Brooks’s place to drop off some artwork, and three hours of laughter and chatter later his cousin asked them if they realized how much they had in common. That question turned out to be the spark that ignited the flame, as the two went on their first date shortly after that.
Indeed, the two have a lot in common. Both have been surrounded by art their entire lives. Mrs. Aqui-Brooks credits her father and two very special teachers for fostering her love of the arts. Mr. Brooks also comes from an art family; his grandfather was an iron worker and his uncle was the first African American to instruct at the prestigious Maryland Institute College of Art.
These early influences led both Mr. Brooks and Mrs. Aqui-Brooks to seek further development in higher education. Mrs. Aqui-Brooks an Arts Education degree from Howard University and her Masters in Arts with a concentration in guidance in counseling from Trinity College. Mr. Brooks studied under a number of talented artists at Philadelphia College of the Art, University of Maryland and Howard University, from where he holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
The couple not only shares a penchant for learning, but teaching as well. Mr. Brooks has mentored over 60 students and interns in his career. Mrs. Aqui-Brooks chose to pass on her knowledge as an art teacher in the DC public school system for over nine years. She also taught Kindergarten and Preschool for the HeadStart and art and English in Gambia in the Teachers for Africa program.
Mrs. Aqui-Brooks’s passion for traveling is shared by her husband. Between the two of them, you would be hard-pressed to name a place they haven’t been. Their travels are often the subject of their work. Mrs. Aqui-Brooks, a mixed media artist who also makes quilts and dolls, describes her work as mostly Afro-Caribbean influenced. Mr. Brooks too takes inspiration from his travels, using his observations for scenes in his mixed media or water color works.
Now, Mr. Brooks is retired after spending 26 years as the Chief Medical Illustrator at Howard University. Mrs. Aqui-Brooks has largely retired from her Art On Wheels program, which she ran since the late 80s. The program provided art opportunities to children without any, and Mrs. Aqui-Brooks will still occasionally bring the program to older adult centers in similar plights. She is also thankful for the very rewarding work she did as an art therapist for the disabled at the Better Treatment Center. As she said, “I’ve had a very interesting and challenging career.”
To say that the couple is retired is misleading though, as they were presented eight shows last year alone. The State Department recently purchased a piece from Mrs. Aqui-Brooks, “The Jazzy Drummer,” and Mr. Brooks, “Family Origin” for the embassy in Liberia.
Both artists agree that making art is a great release and something they recommend every adult try. But to Mr. Brooks, the most important thing is finding something you can share. “What has really made my retirement fun is finding companionship, someone I can do things with that we both enjoy,” said Mr. Brooks, who insists there’s not a dance they can’t do or a dish they can’t cook. Few find the kind of love Mr. Brooks and Mrs. Aqui-Brooks found post-60, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t friendships to be formed based around the activities one loves. Finding someone with similar passions can be hard and it may take 45 years to really take off, but once you find that person, Mr. Brooks and Mrs. Aqui-Brooks can attest that it’s worth the wait.