Jack Kenneth Eyerly 1935-2014

Ultimate NW Art Facilitator Dies at 79

Photograph taken by Jim Lehman.
Photograph taken by Jim Lehman.

Jack Eyerly was born in Portland, raised in Salem and, except for one year of studies at the Fine Arts Center School in Colorado Springs, lived for most of his adult years in Portland, where he was an important force in the art world.  For nearly 40 years Jack Eyerly wanted to meet every artist in the NW and nearly did. A creative and inventive artist, Jack put his energy into helping artists meet other artists and to find opportunities to exhibit and present their artwork. He also helped museums, colleges, and universities identify and locate artists for exhibits, lectures and special projects in the traditional arts, then in film and video and, finally, in computers. From low-fired ceramics to high tech artistic fireworks, Jack found ways to help artists exhibit and sell their work and they were extremely grateful for his efforts.

In his early days Jack drove his VW Van to Eastern Oregon to visit Betty Feves, to Southern Oregon Coast to see Tom Hardy and Eugene to visit David Stannard. He would pack up some of Stannard’s pottery and try to sell it along the roadside. He was an artist’s friend of immense proportions.

Margaret Ringnalda, English and drama teacher at Willamette University, recalled Jack’s efforts in the 1960s to promote and build sets and props for the new Pentacle Theatre in Salem. “He continually solved complex mechanical problems for us. He also helped make the Bush Barn a showplace for the work of regional artists.  I recall that he was promoting (Tom) Hardy’s metal sculpture at the time too.”

Jack came from a family of innovators and inventors. In the 1920s, his grandfather, Lee Eyerly, started a flying school in Salem, for which he designed an early flight simulator. During the Depression, he converted the device into a carnival ride, then followed it with the Roll-O-Plane, the Loop-O-Plane and the Octopus, eventually becoming one of the largest carnival ride manufacturers in the world.  Jack’s uncle Harry Eyerly built and drove racing cars and had the first Volkswagen Auto dealership in the Willamette Valley and sold the first VW to David Foster, art teacher at Springfield high school; Jack’s father, Jack V. Eyerly, ran Eyerly Aircraft after the death of their father. Another relative was Ray Eyerly, famous for his extreme detailed drawings and paintings of ranches and barns of Central Oregon.

Jack knew most of the art gallery directors in the NW and helped them find artists for shows. He worked closely with the New Gallery of Contemporary Art, the Fountain Gallery in Portland, The Evergreen State College Gallery, and developed a successful art gallery at Mt. Angel College. Jack’s late wife, Polly Illo Eyerly, collaborated with him on dozens of art exhibits and projects throughout the 20 years of their marriage.  In her position as Education Curator for the Portland Art Museum and through their friendship with isolated artists like Clifford Gleason and Rick Bartow, they offered kindness and support to a wide roster of Pacific Northwest artists.

An obsessive correspondent, Jack wrote to hundreds of people on a regular basis for years. He was the internet of networking before the internet. His massive collection of letters, art show announcements, and flyers are now in the Pacific Northwest Artists Archives at Willamette University in Salem.

Jack was a founding member of Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT), an organization launched in 1967 by engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer and artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman. Jack guided the Portland regional chapter, one of 28 across the U.S., in its mission to promote collaborations between artists and engineers and expand the artist’s role in social developments related to new technologies.

After 1988, Jack worked for Albertina Kerr, where he started a program to help developmentally disabled people make useful things out of discarded materials. As Ringnalda said, “He had a generous creativity that was an essential part of his genius.”

Photograph taken by Bud Clark.
Photograph taken by Bud Clark.

Jack is survived by his wife Dee Eyerly of Woodland, WA; sister Jan Stebner of Salem; brothers Jon and Steve Eyerly of Salem; sister Sharon Eyerly Hill of Palm Springs; and Dana Illo, daughter of Polly Eyerly.

(Obituary courtesy of Martha Gies, Norma Heyser, Kenneth O’Connell, and Jim Shull.)

The Willamette University Archives and Special Collections houses the Jack Eyerly collection. Contact us for more information.