Eric Kvarnes: A remarkable life remembered

‘The universe has always seemed to support Eric’s dream’

By Jolene Cooper
Special to the Rappahannock News

With heavy hearts, Sperryville bids farewell to a cornerstone and pillar of the local artistic community, Eric Harrall Kvarnes, owner of Glassworks Gallery & Oldway Art Center. He lost his battle with COPD on the night of Wednesday, July 11, 2018.

We are all shocked by the sudden loss of such a remarkable man who has touched so many lives. In his lifetime he was a professional clown, a firefighter, a unicyclist, a Master Glassblower and teacher, Rappnet ListDad, and helper to the community with all things Mac/Apple, to name just a few of his roles.

Courtesy imag

In 1983, both Eric’s mother and father were dying of terminal illnesses, and he spent most of the year with them. Not very long before his mother, Miriam Kvarnes died, out of the blue, she said, “I don’t know son, I just have a feeling you’re going to buy a junkyard.”

About ten days after her funeral, Eric went down to the Sperryville Junkyard to see if Pete Estes had any angle iron in the junkyard. While they were talking, Pete said, “I’m going to have to sell the junkyard. I’ve got skin cancer and can’t cut metal anymore, and if you can’t cut metal, you can’t run a junkyard. It’s seven acres of industrial land with 19 acres behind that, and 700 feet of road frontage on a tourist highway.

“I’ve got to sell it and I just think you’d do something good with it . . . and I could finance it for you.”

After much negotiation, Eric agreed to buy the property. Shortly after, his father also passed away and Eric inherited enough funds to make a down payment on the property and begin construction.

Eric purchased the Sperryville Junkyard in 1984 to fulfill his dream of creating an art center where artists could use the strength of a group to enrich their own lives, and to be able to share tools, equipment, knowledge, and teach others the things that they know.

With the help of many friends, he cleaned up the junkyard over the years, building Oldway Art Center comprising of the glassblowing studio and several other artist studio buildings, constructing Glassworks Gallery to have a retail outlet for the artists, and erecting the Oldway suspension walk bridge over the Thornton river using the towers from a 1934 ferris wheel that had been abandoned in the junkyard.

The universe has always seemed to support Eric’s dream: when he needed artists, they would just walk in the door, if he needed finances they would somehow appear, anything he has needed to keep it going would just arrive in time.

He has helped countless artists start or advance their careers and enriched so many lives. With lots of hard work and by following his dream, he was one of the few people that can say that he truly loved what he did for a living. He also shared his passion for art with his children who all have their own artistic abilities and value the presence of art as much as he did.

His glassblowing demonstrations and classes will not be forgotten by those that were lucky enough to have participated. He had a way of dancing to his own beat with the hot glass as he did with everything else in life. It’s no surprise that one of his favorite songs was “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” by The Kinks.

I met Eric in 2004 when he needed a new glass apprentice and I needed a new direction with my life. He started teaching me about glassblowing and I started working part-time at Glassworks Gallery.

In the years I have known him, he has not only been my boss — he has been my close friend, my mentor not only in glassblowing studies but also in business management and life in general, and an avid supporter of the advancement of my artistic career. I would not be who I am today without him and I am truly honored to have been a part of his life for the last 14 years.

He is survived by his brother, Jensen Kvarnes; his children, Nikki Kvarnes, Kelli Kvarnes Turner, Jenni Kvarnes Doyle, and Leif Kvarnes; his wife, Beth Shelton; his pet turkey, Henrietta; and countless friends, family, and supporters.

Details on a Celebration of Life will be announced at a later date.

— The writer is manager of Glassworks Gallery & Oldway Art Center

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