Silverwood’s closure marks the end of an era

Margaret and Eric Heffelfinger say they’re looking forward to new adventures. - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
Margaret and Eric Heffelfinger say they’re looking forward to new adventures.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

The Silverwood Gallery is known for its vibrant oil paintings, whimsical ceramic tiles and curvaceous copper sculptures. But as Eric and Margaret Heffelfinger shutter a business they’ve spent 17 years cultivating, they say they’ll miss the people who walked through their glass-fronted doors the most.

Couples, they noted, got engaged right there in the middle of their bright and airy gallery, after discussing with Eric, a goldsmith, the kind of ring they wanted.

A member of the Masonic Temple, housed upstairs, routinely brought them small packages of smelt, delivered up with a flourish and a grin. Donald “Doc” Eastly once placed a huge, black-smithed candelabra on their counter, curious to know what they’d give him in trade.

And every year, they’d have shows — invitationals or artist openings — that would pack the gallery so full of people many would spill onto the wide front porch. Their annual exhibits featuring Ted Kutscher’s evocative paintings of Vashon scenes were particularly spirited affairs, the Heffelfingers said.

“They were huge celebrations — not just of his work but of life on the Island,” Eric recalled.

Last week, they closed their gallery’s doors for good — a surprise to many, as the Heffelfingers kept their decision largely to themselves and a handful of close friends. Many will miss the gallery, an anchor in Burton and the second business closure in Burton in March. The Quartermaster Inn & Restaurant, another Burton landmark, shuttered its doors last month, too.

“It feels like a death in the family,” Will North, a writer and Burton resident, said of the two closures.

But for the Heffelfingers, a creative couple with seemingly boundless energy and a shared entrepreneurial spirit, the decision to end their long-running stint as gallery owners is hardly cause for remorse.

In a lively, 90-minute interview last week, the two talked about the many opportunities before them, their desire to dive even more deeply into their art and their belief that other doors would open only if they had the courage to close the doors at their successful gallery.

“We’re kind of goal-setters,” Eric said. “We’ve done everything we can at the gallery, … and we want to further the adventure.”

Margaret — who paints using her maiden name, Margaret Tylczak — is known for her vibrant, character-infused paintings of dogs, which she shows not only at Silverwood but also at a gallery in California. She can’t keep up with the demand, however, and she’ll now have time to paint even more. A writer, she also hopes to spend more time developing that craft as well.

Eric, meanwhile, has been a prodigious goldsmith over the years, producing upwards of 1,000 wedding rings. He’ll continue to create jewelry, he said, but not under the pressure or demands of a commercial operation. Instead, like Robert Ebendorf, a renowned metalsmith whose work is included in collections at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, Eric said he’ll focus on his craft with the mindset of an artist, creating work he finds aesthetically interesting, provocative and beautiful.

“I’m artistic, but I’m still making (jewelry) for a market. I don’t want to be encumbered by that anymore,” he said.

Eric recently met Ebendorf — and the two quickly developed a friendship as well as a deep appreciation for their respective work. Last month, the two men — as well as students from Vashon High School, where Eric teaches jewelry-making — held a one-week show at Silverwood.

When Eric sent Ebendorf an email last week telling him of his decision to close Silverwood and put his energy into his art, Ebendorf responded with a congratulatory email.

“I don’t think anyone who knows us is anything but thrilled,” Margaret said.

The Heffelfingers moved to Vashon in 1995 from Minneapolis, where Eric had operated a gallery featuring his own work as a goldsmith. They had only just arrived on the Island and were eating breakfast at what was then the Back Bay Inn — the precursor to the Quartermaster Inn — when they looked across the street at the Masonic Lodge, saw a “for lease” sign on the historic, whitewashed building and realized it was exactly the kind of space they wanted for their new venture.

A few hectic months later, after remodeling what had been a dark and smoky space with few windows, they opened the glass-fronted Silverwood Gallery — named for the driftwood at their own beachfront home. It was a whirlwind time, they recalled. They also remodeled their own home, launched their business and had a baby — Hart Heffelfinger, now a sophomore in high school.

Initially, the gallery featured a new show every month, hung and curated by Eric. The work, some of it by nationally known artists, came from around the country as well as Canada, and the gallery quickly drew a strong, regional following. All the while, the gallery featured a handful of Island artists — copper sculptor Ivonne Escobar de Kommer, tile artist and sculptor Joanne Bohannon and Kutscher, a lawyer by day and oil painter by night whose popularity grew considerably over his years at Silverwood.

They also held popular, Island-wide invitationals, centered around a sometimes whimsical theme — bees, salmon, flowers, chickens. A repeating favorite was called “Heart of the Beast,” where artists would explore the meaning of the phrase and decide if they were the beast and their work their heart — or just the opposite, Margaret said with a grin.

After 9-11, shipping artwork across the country and especially across international borders became difficult, Margaret said, and the couple decided to change their business model and permanently feature just three artists — Kommer, Bohannon and Kutscher — as well as themselves.

“It worked really well,” Margaret said. The artists they featured “were strong players” who produced work people wanted to buy.

All along, they added, their business has been profitable. “We’ve been amazed year after year,” Margaret said.

Some see the gallery’s closure as the end of an era for Burton, especially in light of Quartermaster’s closure as well. Kutscher, reached at his Seattle law firm Friday, said those days when the restaurant was bustling and Silverwood had an opening “where halcyon times.”

“That was such an exuberant, extroverted moment for that corner,” he said. “I’m really sad to see that kind of vibrancy go.”

He guesses he sold more than 300 paintings during his 13 years at Silverwood. Now, he noted wryly, he’ll have to peddle his work somewhere else. “I’m not looking forward to that,” he said.

North, the Burton-based writer, also found the Silverwood’s energy infectious. He and his wife, Susan Bates, got their wedding rings made by Eric. Over the years, he added, he’s grown to love the gallery’s openings, especially shows featuring Margaret’s work, paintings of dogs often sporting hilarious names, he said.

“I’d wander around (the gallery), grinning like an idiot,” North said.

At the same time, Kutscher said, he has nothing but admiration for the Heffelfingers and their tireless commitment to the arts community on the Island. “I looked at every year they were open as a gift. … I often felt that what they did was far greater than whatever they got.”

The Heffelfingers, meanwhile, feel confident a new chapter awaits Burton. “It will renew itself. I’m fairly confident someone will come in here and have a great idea,” Eric said.

They’re also looking forward to the next chapter in their own lives.

“I’ve loved it,” Eric said of the gallery he ran with his wife. “It’s just time for something new.”


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