Wheeling is a medium-sized city that sits along the Ohio River in what is known as the “panhandle” of West Virginia, a narrow strip of land between Pennsylvania and Ohio that juts northward from the northwestern corner of the state. Like Pittsburgh, its neighbor to the east, Wheeling grew up and thrived in the industrial age of steel and manufacturing. Taking raw materials from the earth, barons of industry manufactured steel, glass, and textiles, building corporations and wealth that fed the needs of a growing community of workers. The Oglebays and Stifels of Wheeling, like their better-known Pittsburgh neighbor Andrew Carnegie, invested in the community good, establishing cultural institutions that still exist today. Rick Morgan, the director of the visual arts department of the 92-year-old arts organization Oglebay Institute, looks forward to showcasing the region’s 21st-century making, with the upcoming earth and fire, a national exhibition of ceramic art as part of the city’s Ceramics Take Over Wheeling in February and March of 2023.
The Stifel Fine Arts Center is part of the nonprofit Oglebay Institute, an arts, nature, and cultural organization formed in 1930 when a group of like-minded Wheeling citizens, armed with the vision and the philanthropy of the Oglebay family, came together to “contribute to the joy of living” by creating cultural, education and recreational programming in the city’s newly acquire Oglebay Park.
Oglebay Park, once known as Waddington Farm, was owned by Earl W. Oglebay, an Ohio Valley native and Cleveland industrialist who made his fortune in the shipping industry. In 1926 when Oglebay died, he willed his country estate to the city of Wheeling for the purpose of public recreation. The park opened in 1928. The Institute operates venues and conducts programs within the park and has expanded its reach throughout the city of Wheeling. In 1976, the Stifel family, owners of a textile company, deeded their historic home, Edemar, to Oglebay Institute for use as a public art center. For almost one hundred years, residents of Wheeling and beyond have benefited from the enrichment these institutions have provided.
Rick Morgan joined Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center two decades ago after earning a degree in arts education at West Liberty University. His ceramics professor, Lambros Tsuhlares, also taught classes at Stifel and asked Morgan to assist and teach one of his classes. “Most of the class members were older people,” he recalls, “and I felt like a little kid. But surprisingly, they listened to me, and I found I really enjoyed it.” When a full-time teaching slot opened just as he received his degree, he didn't’ hesitate to take it. Within five years, he was appointed director.
The Stifel Fine Arts Center offers classes in pottery, painting, woodworking, stained glass, jewelry, and other media. The facility provides a grand space for multiple annual exhibitions. The mansion’s lower-level houses studio spaces and the pottery studio. In summer, hundreds of children swarm the space for art camps. Morgan says that Stifel is the city’s go-to place for art education but there are other small galleries and studios that make up the Wheeling arts community. West Liberty University, just outside of the city, offers a strong arts program. Drawing on these many resources, the city is planning a region-wide event for the upcoming winter, Ceramics Take Over Wheeling.
Stifel’s earth and fire will be a central component of the Wheeling event. A juried exhibition, earth and fire will seek entries from clay artists throughout the region and country. Easy on-line submissions will be reviewed by two jurists: Jen Allen, a nationally recognized artist who teaches ceramics at West Virginia University in Morgantown, and Richard Miecznikowski, a long-time potter and retired Professor of Fine Arts at California University of Pennsylvania. Finalists will submit their pieces for the exhibition, which will run from February 24 through April 1, 2023. Three awards with generous cash prizes totaling $7,000 donated by Lambros Tsuhlares, and two merit awards will be determined by the Jurors. The opening reception will be held on February 24.
Jurors Jen Allen and Michael Miecznikowski
Morgan plans to expand the activities outside of the gallery each weekend with several hands-on events. “We hope to do a pottery “throw-down” competition,” he says. “We did one in the spring, and it was a lot of fun.” He also plans a raku firing and workshops throughout the run of the exhibit. The jurors for earth and fire, Jen Allen and Richard Miecznikowski, will each have an exhibition in the gallery at Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre, which is located in Wheeling’s historic Centre Market District.
Simultaneous with the Stifel competition, West Liberty University will hold a similar event for college students. The university will host an intercollegiate exhibition, drawing from several nearby campuses. The local high schools, too, will host an exhibition. Local businesses have signed on, offering space to showcase artwork in their storefronts. Several restaurants will feature a mug or bowl with the event logo that diners may use and take home. Morgan says, “February and March are a time of year when not much is happening. We hope that this will become an annual event that the city looks forward to. We have a lot of interest and enthusiasm and have secured funding for at least the next five years.” A comprehensive guide to activities will be available online and at local venues.
Pottery Throw Down
Morgan and his wife have two teenage children who have been exposed to the arts by default. Often, when they ask for something, Morgan will say, “We can make that – let’s just make it instead of buying it!” This creative attitude is what has thrived in Wheeling for centuries. Ceramics Take Over Wheeling and earth and fire will celebrate this tradition of making, drawn from the earth and fortified with the fire of Wheeling’s past.
For more information about Ceramics Take Over Wheeling, visit https://www.ceramicstakeoverwheeling.com
For information about submissions for earth and fire, visit https://artist.callforentry.org/festivals_unique_info.php?ID=10482
Images of the Stifel Fine Arts Center Courtesy of The Ogelbay Institute