Kelly Strautmann and her first handmade gnome.Building a Stronger Community — One Gnome at a Time Kelly Strautmann August 17, 2019 There is a place in Wheeling where you can meet new friends and be creative. Where a beautiful resident tortoiseshell cat named Reese will greet you and make you feel welcome. It’s a place where owners Beth Patsch and Adam Bedway have started something wildly successful — inviting people to come together to make art in a casual and fun atmosphere, no matter what level of creativity and craftiness you have. The place is East Wheeling Clayworks. I decided to try my hand at making a clay gnome at the shop in July — with absolutely no clay, art or craftiness talent in me at all. I just brought a love for gnomes and the willingness to try a new experience. A SHOP BY ANY OTHER NAME The location of the shop is now in North Wheeling, but the East Wheeling name remains. “I love that we get asked that. Everyone always asks about the name,” Adam tells me when I bring it up. “We really like East Wheeling. We really like the neighborhood. And we like to associate positive things with East Wheeling, so that’s why when we moved out of East Wheeling proper we chose to keep the name.” Adam and Beth still live in East Wheeling. Their very first shop in that location, in 2015, was in a small garage, which led to a brief residency in Centre Market. They basically outgrew that space before they had completely moved in. And they are about to outgrow their current building as well. They hope to expand into the basement for a larger studio space so they can offer bigger and messier projects and workshops. Getting people’s hands into clay is turning out to be a popular and demanding career for them. BEFORE EAST WHEELING Adam and Beth Adam started out in metal sculpture and eventually got into pottery when he watched one of his friends make tall porcelain pitchers in the studio at Tulane University, New Orleans. “Man, it just gets its hooks into you and then that’s it,” Adam explains of his love for pottery. Adam grew up in Bridgeport, Ohio, and his father owned a shop in Wheeling. When his father became ill, Adam moved back to Wheeling and landed at Bethany College where he continued to throw on the wheel. That is where he met Beth. They each earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art at Bethany College. That particular liberal arts degree entails classes that expose students to a variety of art mediums. “I think they have three ceramic classes at Bethany, and I think I took all of them and then just kept going,” says Adam. Beth is from Weirton, West Virginia, and explained that she and Adam actually met for the first time in a Bethany health class, oddly enough. “I was more of a sculpture major — I did more sculpture work, and I get to do a lot of sculptural things here that I didn’t have a chance to do at Bethany,” Beth said. After graduation, Beth went on to George Washington University to obtain a master’s degree in museum studies and collection management, studying art from all directions, learning “how the process goes — from making it until the very end.” FROM HOBBY TO JOB Opening the shop in Wheeling took some time to begin. Adam was a contractor throughout college and beyond, for about 16 years, all while the hobby of pottery was put on the back burner. Once their house was paid off and before they started a family, Adam and Beth decided to give opening an art business in Wheeling a shot. “We wanted to get it started before we had kids and get it established and see if we could do it.” An added benefit to opening their own shop before starting a family was the issue of daycare. “We knew if it worked out, it would set us up so that we wouldn’t need daycare. She could just come with us. And, lo and behold, here we are today,” Beth explains. Beth and Adam are new parents to 5-month-old Ollie, who was present in her mother’s arms when I was at the shop, which is where she can often be found. (It was also Knit Night — when knitters get together to work on their creations — and Ollie was affectionately passed around among the patrons.) Beth and Adam have been running their shop full time (without having other “day jobs”) for about a year now. And what a year it has been with Ollie’s arrival and the recent popularity of their workshops in Wheeling. Beth holds her 5-month-old daughter Ollie. ANOTHER NEW ARRIVAL This increasing demand in personal and professional life led Beth and Adam to look for more help. In November of 2018, artist Alex Wright was hired and helps run many of the workshops offered. Artist Alex Wright has been working at the shop since fall 2018. Alex had started throwing pottery in college mostly for fun, but once she graduated with her graphic design degree, she no longer had access to that medium of art and had to take a break. Landing a job at East Wheeling Clayworks couldn’t have happened at a better time for Alex. She was, unfortunately, laid off from her 9-5 graphic design job in May of 2018, but she saw it as more of a wake-up call than a setback. She wanted to focus on art but didn’t have the time. When a position opened at the shop last fall, Alex knew she missed pottery and thought she would give it a try. “Getting hired at East Wheeling Clayworks was a dream. Adam and Beth are incredible, empathetic people who care about their community and their work. I come to work every day ready to give my best to this place because I believe in it,” Alex explains. Adam encouraged Alex to work on her own creations in the shop, and now she’s making unicorn and goblin mugs on the side, along with whatever else she feels like trying. “I’ve discovered a sense of pride and belief in my work that I’ve never really had before. Being in such a good environment surrounded by people who help teach and encourage me has really made me feel like I can do the darn thing. It’s really helped me believe and understand that I am capable of so much more than I thought.” Alex is helping others in the workshops learn that they are capable of creating as well, and that one should never be afraid to try new things. LET’S (FINALLY) TALK ABOUT GNOMES “We started doing Sculpt ’n’ Gulps before we even had a shop,” Adam said. The first Sculpt ’n’ Gulp — a direct play on words of the other popular art gathering, paint and sips — was a fundraiser for the East Wheeling Kitty Coalition. Beth explains that it “started as this little fundraiser we did, and then it became like a project that we could do with people. It was really fun to get together with people who have never had their hands in clay before, and then they walk away with something they can be proud of.” I can personally describe myself as a garden gnome freak. I don’t really know how this happened. Suddenly I’m pushing the age of 40, and a lot of people associate me with gnomes. (Maybe because I have tons of them in my yard, and I take pictures of them and talk about them a lot?) When East Wheeling Clayworks began having gnome workshops, friends posted the event links on my Facebook page, knowing I would love to try my hand at it. But the problem was that I couldn’t get a ticket fast enough. That is how quickly the events would sell out. Because I was nervous about my upcoming gnome experience, during our interview Adam showed me the gnomes that were drying from a previous workshop. I was delighted to see all the different little gnomes looking back at me, each with its own unique look. When I say I have no artistic talent, I am not being modest. I am telling the truth. Tracing horses in a learn-to-draw grade school library book is about as far as I ever got into the art scene. I will often draw things for coworkers and family just to make them laugh — it’s that bad. I was reassured, though, that “most people have zero experience when they come here. Especially with clay.” When we entered the Clayworks building for my gnome night, there was Reese, the resident cat, sitting on a table by the door, greeting everyone who entered the shop. The clay was on our tables ready for us — just two balls of clay per person and some tiny grooming tools. My immediate thought was, “This should be good. I’m going to butcher this.” A gnome starts with two balls of clay, left; Kelly rakes the inside of her gnome hat, right. THE WORKSHOP The event was sold out, of course, and the tables were full. One thing about events at East Wheeling Clayworks is you might not know the people you are sitting with when you get there, but you will know them a lot better by the time you leave. Adam told me he often sees and overhears strangers trade phone numbers and make plans to keep in touch after the event. Getting your hands in clay with others has a way of turning strangers into friends. Beth and Alex were running my event, as Adam was home taking care of Ollie. I was soon put at ease a bit as Beth showed us that one ball of clay would be the body of the gnome, and one ball would be the hat. She gave detailed instructions to the whole room on how to get started, and then she or Alex would come around to each table to help with any problems. When it came time to “groom” the clay with what looks like a miniature garden rake before attaching different pieces together, I’ve got to say, it was highly satisfying. Drawing my rake through the soft clay to make lines was almost therapeutic. I decided to get a little risky for someone with my lack of talent and wanted to add a mushroom to my gnome because we all know every good gnome deserves a good mushroom buddy. The problem was, there was no way I could master that on my own. Alex came over to show me how she would make the mushroom, and then I ended up using hers. “The No. 1 rule to ceramics is to take your time,” Alex instructed. “Everything I do is slow.” I thought my gnome could use a little flower on his hat. And I’m happy to say, I was able to assemble this piece myself, with some guidance of course. We were told we could be “as simple or as complicated” as we wanted with our gnomes. I got to decide what kind of beard and nose I wanted to make, and the woman sitting next to me might have been one of the only ones to make eyes for her gnome that night — and let me tell you, her gnome was cute. My friend Mary is a steampunk fan and added a steampunk-esque gear to her gnome’s hat, proving that the options are truly limitless when you want to express yourself. Mary Satterfield, left, gets instruction from Alex Wright on her gnome. The next step is picking out glaze options (red, white or green). The gnomes need to dry for three weeks before getting glazed and being returned to you. I had a ton of fun at my first event, and my gnome doesn’t even look too bad. I had more “wrinkles” in my clay than others did, and it’s not as neat as maybe it could have been, but I think overall that just adds character to my gnome in the long run. I can’t wait to bring him home. And I think I’m going to head back to make yet another one in “Gnomevember.” Because even those of us with little talent can feel a sense of pride after spending an evening at East Wheeling Clayworks, and especially because one can never have too many gnomes. A closeup of Kelly’s cute little gnome. UPCOMING EVENTS Beth and Adam have a full schedule of events where you can try your hand at clay or other mediums or where you can visit them at a local craft fair. The garden gnome events are so popular they are changing the name of November to “Gnomevember” this year, when several gnome-making events will be offered. Aug. 17: Sculpt ’n’ Gulp: Pollinator Station Aug. 24: Marietta Marketplace (Marietta, Ohio) Aug. 31: Makers Series: Pet-Themed Welcome Mat Workshop Sept. 7: Friendly City Handmade: Fall Show (Wheeling) Sept. 14: Sculpt ’n’ Gulp: Mugs Sept. 21-22: West Virginia Wine and Jazz Fest (Morgantown) Sept. 27: Monster Makers: Jack O Lanterns Sept. 28-29: Center Market Oktoberfest (Wheeling) Oct. 4-6: OglebayFest (Wheeling) The whole gang — Alex and Ollie, Adam and Beth at East Wheeling Clayworks. For more about East Wheeling Clayworks, check out the Facebook Page or website for more information. • Kelly Strautmann lives out in the country of Cameron, West Virginia, and proofreads in the city of Wheeling. She has a supportive and talented husband and two ridiculous daughters who keep her busy and full of love. 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