Meet the Metal Artist Behind These Iconic Wheeling Sculptures

If you live in Wheeling, you have probably heard his name. Jeffrey Forster is a unique metalworker and artist who has become a household name in Wheeling and is often the first call made when local metal restoration or art is needed. Although he is probably most well-known for the 1800-pound, 11 foot tall metal statue of an elephant—affectionately named Bobo—and several other smaller steel creatures that are installed at a portside park at the corner of 11th and Main Street, Forster has iconic pieces dotted all over the city. While walking around Centre Market, downtown Wheeling, or even the grounds of Oglebay, you’re likely to set eyes upon some of Forster’s most recognizable pieces. His works include wrought iron gates and fences along historic Chapline Row, a twisting metal sculpture behind the old B&O building on the WVNCC campus, the railings at St Alphonsus church, multiple steel herons, and even a complete restoration of Admiral John McClure’s zinc monument at Mount Wood cemetery.

A New York native, Forster was raised in Niagra Falls, where he realized early on in life that his passions lay outside of traditional schooling when he had struggled in his classes due to dyslexia and eventually left school early. Today, he speaks about his past with some warmth, if only for the part it played in the man he has become. He explains that once he discovered that he possessed the three aptitudes required of metal workers—great peripherals, intuitive judgement of sizing and distances, and a natural ability to mentally view objects from multiple angles—everything fell into place. After initially moving to Marshall County, WV in the late 70s to apprentice under a blacksmith from New Jersey, Forster was offered a blacksmith shop of his own and permanently moved to Wheeling in the mid 80s. Today, he owns and runs ‘Artistic Metals by Forster’, which lists artistic mental structures, decorative ironwork, and metal restoration as some of the main components of the business.

  • In addition to Bobo the elephant, metal sculptures of a heron, turtle, and mouse can be found at the Wheeling Heritage Port Park, on the corner of 11th and Main Street.

In addition to his commissioned work, Forster has held a position as an adjunct professor of metalworking and blacksmithing in Belmont College’s prestigious and well-known Building Preservation and Restoration department, providing students with invaluable, hands-on work that they can see around the community. He has also taught at the Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center and given lectures with the Belmont County Public Library in conjunction with the Great Stone Viaduct Historical Education Society to further support and educate about restoration and preservation in the Ohio Valley.

Subscribe to Weelunk

In 2020, Forster was awarded the Bob Weir Craftsperson Award by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia for his “masterful work throughout the city of Wheeling,”1 The award is given by the alliance to “celebrate historic preservation excellency and to inspire others in our Mountain State to do similar projects” which are both things Forster certainly does!

If you would like to commission Jeffrey Forster to restore metalwork or create a custom art piece for you, he is reachable by telephone at 304-975-0027 or through his Facebook account.

• Ellery McGregor is a Wheeling transplant from Los Angeles, California. She works remotely for a marketing team in LA and now moonlights as an author for Weelunk. She earned her undergraduate degree in English from California State University Long Beach in Long Beach, California. Since moving to Wheeling over a year ago, she has spent her time helping her family restore an Italianate Victorian row house in Centre Market, picnicking at Heritage Port, and marveling over having actual seasons.


1 Aryes, Eric. “Preservation Alliance Recognizes Passion for Local History in Wheeling.” The
Intelligencer (Wheeling, WV), October 9, 2020.