We have been in existence since 1984 in the former 26 acre junkyard in Sperryville. My name is Eric Kvarnes and I have been a glassblower since 1973.
I always had this dream of building an art center where artists could use the strength of a group to enrich our own lives, and to be able to share tools, equipment, knowledge, and teach others the things we know. In 1980, I was visiting the Sperryville junkyard with another glassblower, Chris Constantine, looking for a split rim wheel for his 1956 Chevy pickup, when he noticed me standing in the middle of all this junk lost in thought.
“You have the oddest look on your face.” he said.
“I think I’m going to own this junkyard someday, Chris,” I replied.
He promptly told me I was nuts (as if that was some sort of new information). It was the oddest feeling, but I dismissed it. But I always thought about it when I’d drive by the place. I often found myself thinking about this “Art Center” idea- it just wouldn’t go away.
In 1983, my mother and father were both dying of terminal illnesses, and I spent most of that year with them, spending all the time I could at their home. Near the end of my mom’s illness we had a conversation where much was settled. She told me:
“You know son, for all the hell you put us through as a teenager, I think you are going to turn out OK.”
I thanked her for saying that, and then with a far away look she continued, “But I have this feeling you’re going to buy a junkyard. You started telling me from when you were 2 years old that you were going to buy a junkyard when you grew up, and you said it many times until you were about 12.”
“Mom, why would I buy a junkyard? I’m a glassblower- I don’t want a junkyard.”
“Honey, things you say have a way of happening.”
She died shortly after that conversation. About ten days after the funeral, I was in the process of building more glass equipment and I went down to see if Pete Estes had any angle iron at the junkyard. In the course of locating the angle iron Pete started talking.
“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 7 acres of industrial land with 19 acres behind that, and 700′ 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.”
Well, I didn’t pee in my pants, but almost. It was like “The Twilight Zone.” After much negotiation, several agreements, lots of sweating, and me chickening out on the mortgage payment amounts, we finally struck a deal where I would buy the property, help Pete three days a week to clean it all up, and sell off all the scrap metal, and the price would be lowered by the amount that the junk sold for. Pete made it all possible.
Pete Estes was the former sheriff of Rappahannock County Virginia and was on the board of supervisors. We live in an area next to Shenandoah National Park (A literal Oldway next door neighbor on one property line) and there is a FIERCE local determination to keep this beautiful countryside from being spoiled. Pete started this junkyard and Pete ended this junkyard. He didn’t want to leave the mess he started for the world to deal with. Pete has been a long time member of probably one of the best local governments in the U.S. today. Much credit goes to Pete, and the rest of the great people who serve us in our local government.
In a whirlwind of life’s strange twists, my dad died 3 months after my mom, and Pete and I worked out the deal. We cleaned up the junkyard for next 18 months, and I moved my glassblowing studio to the old junkyard shop building. I inherited enough funds from my dad to make the down payment on the property, and build one new studio building, the frame of Glassworks Gallery, and feed us until the glass business could support the family.
Somehow over the years this magic has continued; if I needed Artists they would just walk in the door, if I needed finances, somehow they would appear, what ever Oldway needed, it would just arrive. On the day that I committed the last of my dad’s money to building the gallery building, knowing it wouldn’t even get it halfway done, I was, to say the least, scared.
I don’t like to ask God for much, except a good swift kick in the right direction once in a while please, but that day I asked very sincerely that he be sure there was always food on the table, and shoes on the kids feet. I had spent everything on this crazy art center idea, and was at a moment of great unsureness.
At that moment, in broad daylight, a huge meteor came across the sky, very slowly and very brightly. It must have been flipping end over end because it was turning red, green, red, green, and took about 7 seconds to cross the sky.
I didn’t pee in my pants that time either. My stomach went into my throat instead. I turned around, looked at the ground, and said out loud:
“You know Lord, I really wasn’t looking for quite that much answer, but thank you. If it’s OK, I’m going in the house now, OK? Uh, thanks again. Uh, I’m going inside now, uh, thanks again…..”
I think all this happens because Oldway isn’t for me. It’s for the kids. I just want groups of kids to know that you really can live your dreams if you are willing to do the work. My job in life is to tell kids that. My greatest blessing in life is that I know what I’m supposed to do. Give me a microphone and a group of kids, and I’m a happy guy. Kids are the only future we have. If I can inspire one out of a thousand to go out and make the world a little better, the world might get better. Cool.
Over the years, studio buildings have been built, (’86, ’92, ’97, and ’08-’09) Glassworks Gallery (’88-’97) and the glassblowing pavilion (’89-’97) were built, and the Oldway suspension walk bridge was built over the Thornton river using the towers from a 1934 ferris wheel abandoned in the junkyard (’92-’96). These projects have taken years to complete, but as money has slowly come in, and with many friends pitching in, the old Sperryville Junkyard has become an art center.
We now have 8 studios, the 2400 sq. ft Glassblowing pavilion with 10 garage doors that open in warm weather, and the 5000 sq. ft Glassworks Gallery building that is our retail outlet. Most important of all we have a great group of artists that continue to add energy to a project that has taken the property from a junkyard to a place where beauty is created.
Many more projects are on the drawing board and over the next few years you will see many new and exciting things happen!
Thanks for visiting Oldway online. In person is even better…