‘Earth & Fire’ Exhibition at Stifel Fine Arts Center

By Phyllis Sigal

To say that Rick Morgan, Lambros Tsuhlares, and Lisa Rasmussen are fired up about “Ceramics Take Over Wheeling” and “Earth & Fire” would be an understatement.

One of many components of the citywide ceramics event, the “Earth & Fire” national exhibition opens at Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center Friday, February 24. A free, public reception takes place at 6:30pm. All are welcome.

“Earth & Fire” remains on display through March 31 and a multitude of related events will follow in the days and weeks ahead.


One morning about a year and a half ago, longtime potter Tsuhlares awoke with a dream — put Wheeling on the map as a “top-notch ceramics destination.”

Tsuhlares took his idea to Rick Morgan, director of Stifel Fine Arts Center as well as a potter in his own right, and then the two of them pitched it to Lisa Rasmussen, director of exhibitions at Stifel.

“The two of them were so excited about it,” she said … especially when she told them. “Let’s do it.”

Tsuhlares’ $14,000 donation to the “pot” for prize money, advertising, and jurors’ fees helped to make it all possible.

And now, just days away from the opening, it’s bigger than any of them ever thought it would be.

Tsuhlares is pleased with the progress that’s been made this year. … “More than I can imagine. … when I saw the pots from 29 states and the caliber of the work … wait until people see what’s coming into this city — a lot of really nice stuff is coming to town. Outsiders will say ‘wow,’” he said. “This year will make quite a splash.”

“How many times do you get an opportunity to have an idea and to watch it bloom. I get teary-eyed,” Tsuhlares said. “I feel blessed to have the opportunity and to see it come to fruition, to have an idea, and it actually works.”

“There’s lots going on, but [“Earth & Fire”] is the real gem,” Tsuhlares said.

Along with the “Earth & Fire” exhibition — touted as the focal point of “Ceramics Take Over Wheeling” — Oglebay Institute will host workshops, a pottery throw down, a pop-up mug shop, and more.

Throughout Wheeling, mug and soup bowl sales, ceramic exhibits, and more are on tap during the next couple of months. (See the complete list of events below.)


Rasmussen has been carefully unwrapping an impressive array of ceramic pieces — sculptures, wall hangings, and functional pieces of clay, from simple to complex — that have been arriving from all parts of the country. Three hundred and nine pieces were entered by 161 artists from 35 states; 99 pieces created by 78 artists from 29 states were accepted.

Ceramic work from “Earth & Fire” on display at Stifel Fine Arts Center gallery.

From Washington to Texas to Maine to Florida and everywhere in between, a variety of pieces in a myriad of styles are arriving daily. “They run the gamut, which is really nice,” Rasmussen said.

“It’s like Christmas opening all these packages and seeing this beautiful artwork,” she said. Morgan, Tsuhlares, and Rasmussen herself can be overheard exclaiming, “Oh my gosh! Look at this one! Oh my gosh, look at THIS one! WOW, that’s beautiful,” she shared.

“What I like about the jurors is that they chose so many styles of ceramics,” Rasmussen said, which makes it educational for the audience, too.


Jurying the “Earth & Fire” exhibition were Jen Allen and Richard “Duke” Miecznikowski.

“Jen Allen is really big right now,” Morgan said, and described her as “the IT girl in ceramics.” He believes that her involvement helped to attract entries to the show.

She was recognized as an “Emerging Artist” by the National Council for the Education of Ceramic Arts (NCECA) in March 2008. In addition to keeping a home studio, Allen teaches ceramic classes at West Virginia University.

Miecznikowski, who recently retired as a professor of fine art at California University of Pennsylvania (PennWest California), has been making pots for about 50 years. He is probably best known for a commission he received from the White House for a dinnerware set during the Carter administration.

Jen Allen

Work by the jurors will be on display at the Gallery at Towngate Theatre, and each will conduct a workshop.

Morgan noted that Allen and Miecznikowski will be onsite at Stifel Fine Arts Center leading up to the exhibition opening to choose the prize-winners for the show. They may even say a word or two about their choices at the Feb. 24 opening reception.

Winning artists will share a $7,000 prize pot: first prize is $4,000; second prize is $1,500; third prize is $1,000; and two merit awards are $250 each.


Morgan and Tsuhlares have been connected by clay for many years.

Tsuhlares was Morgan’s pottery instructor at West Liberty a couple of decades ago. “He was a good student,” Tsuhlares recalled. And, when Tsuhlares taught ceramics at Stifel Fine Arts Center in the 1990s, he gave the West Liberty student his start with the Institute.

Lambros Tsuhlares teaches a pottery class at Stifel Fine Arts Center in 1998.

“He was busy, and he asked me to teach here,” Morgan said. Then, thanks to good timing, the art education director was leaving Stifel, which allowed Morgan to come on board at Oglebay Institute.

“I came here; he gave me my start. Then, I needed a ceramics instructor, and he came back. Now, here we are talking about this exhibition, and he leaned on me. … Full circle,” Morgan explained.

Tsuhlares complimented Morgan’s success in expanding the pottery program at Oglebay Institute. In the early days, there wasn’t even a kiln that reached hot enough temperatures — Tsuhlares had to create glazes that could fire at lower temperatures.

“[Morgan] has expanded it to the point that it needs national prominence,” Tsuhlares pointed out.


Both potters share a love of clay that digs deep.

Tsuhlares recalls his first job in the mid-’70s as a teacher at a junior high in Triadelphia, West Virginia. His budget was a grand total of $0 — a budget that begged for creativity. He and his students dug for clay near a creek by the school, used sawdust from Scott Lumber Co. for fuel and made glazes from baking soda. They also built their own kiln from bricks his students brought from their rural homes — they got extra credit for those bricks. They were known to tote in some dung from time to time, too, “also a good fuel,” he said.

“It was a lot of fun,” he recalls, and said he still hears from students who recall digging for clay. “Those were very rich years.”

The majority of Tsuhlares’ pottery is kitchenware — mugs, pots, and his signature teapots. He’s made a few transitions in his style over the last 50 years, and is “hoping to get a little funkier,” with more artistic, less functional pieces in the future, he said.

Rick Morgan, director of Stifel Fine Arts Center.

Morgan said he really loves “making something people handle, touch and use. … artwork that’s user-friendly.” Bowls, plates, mugs … especially mugs. “I use my own mugs. We’ll get a mug from artists we’ve met at shows.” He’s got “quite a collection … more than I can put in a cupboard,” he said.

“… and the fact that you can take something from the earth, shape it, sculpt it, fire it — it’s permanent. It’s amazing that the stuff I’m making will be here forever. We still find Egyptian and Greek pottery,” he pointed out.


If they throw it, will they come? Tsuhlares and Morgan sure hope so.
Tsuhlares has committed to funding “Ceramics Takes Over Wheeling” for five years. He’s hoping it “hits its stride” in two or three years, and then after five years, perhaps bigger sponsors, entry fees, and more funding will keep the event afloat for many years to come.

He would like to see the city become known for the month of February when “Ceramics Take Over Wheeling,” … when people in the know about ceramics come to Wheeling to see ceramic art.

Morgan believes that Wheeling could “become a cool, trendy place for ceramicists.” He is hopeful that the annual ceramics event will attract more and more artists to town, and perhaps they will make Wheeling their home.

“The Friendly City can be friendly to ceramic artists,” Morgan said.

Bringing more artists to Wheeling is Tsuhlares’ dream as well. It’s possible to make a living as an artist here, he said. … “I reared two children making pots.” And he’s building a ceramics studio on Chapline Street in Center Wheeling that will eventually have a storefront.

“More arts raises the sea for all the boats. That’s a dream I’d love to see.”


Art Exhibitions:

• Feb. 24-March 31, Stifel Fine Arts Center, 1330 National Road, Wheeling, will host, “Earth & Fire,” a national exhibition with ceramic works from all over the U.S. The opening reception will be from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Feb. 24.

• March 1-31, the McLure House Hotel, 1200 Market St.,Wheeling, will host Stifel Potters in the storefront windows. A reception will be held from 4-6 p.m. March 18, in the hotel lobby.

• March 3-April 1, Artworks Around Town, 2200 Market St., Wheeling, will host ceramic works by Tom Thomas and Bo Bedilion. Opening reception is set for March 4.

• March 4-May 26, the Gallery at Towngate Theatre, 2118 Market St., Wheeling, will host ceramic works by “Earth & Fire” jurors Jennifer Allen and Richard “Duke” Miecznikowski. Opening reception is from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, March 9.

• March 9-April 2, Clientele Art Studio, 43 15th St., Wheeling, will host works by Andrea Dubiel and Jake Pierce. The opening reception is set for March 9.

The Wheeling Artisan Center, 1400 Main St., Wheeling, will spotlight ceramic artists who sell their works in the second-floor Artisan Shop.

Events and Workshops:

Jen Allen Workshop, “From Slab to Fab,” 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Feb. 25, at Stifel Fine Arts Center. This workshop focuses on transforming two-dimensional slab shapes (from templates) into three-dimensional pottery forms.

Raku Firing with Rick Morgan, noon to 5 p.m. March 1 on the grounds of Stifel Fine Arts Center. The Raku technique involves taking glazed ceramics from the kiln while they are still glowing red hot and placing them in a material that would be able to catch fire, such as sawdust or newspaper. This technique is used to starve the piece of oxygen, which creates a myriad of colors within the glaze.

Artist spotlight with Carrie Dawson, ceramic artist and owner of Morning Light Studio, who will provide a free clay pinch pot workshop from 5-7 p.m. March 3, at Wheeling Artisan Center.

Richard “Duke” Miecznikowski ceramics workshop, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., March 11, at Stifel Fine Arts Center. Demonstrations include techniques in making functional as well as decorative work.

The Soup or Bowl sale, March 11, at the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, where patrons can get both soup and a fancy bowl crafted by local artists.

Pottery Throw Down, 6:30-8:30 p.m., March 25, at Stifel Fine Arts Center. Four potters test their skills in various challenges, including creating the tallest clay cylinder, widest clay bowl, blindfolded vase creation, and teacup speed challenge.

A pop-up mug shop at Stifel Fine Arts Center features mugs by “Earth & Fire” artists.

Visitors can purchase locally made mugs in February and March at several venues, including Stifel Fine Arts Center, Towngate Theatre, Artworks Around Town, Wheeling Artisan Center, Clientele Art Studio, Later Alligator, The Market Café, Casa di Vino – House of Wine, and Wheeling Coffee Shoppe.


FOR MORE INFORMATION, visit www.oionline.com and www.ceramicstakeoverwheeling.com.


For some, Stifel Fine Arts Center is a place to encounter art. To others, it’s a place to create art. For everyone, it is a bridge between the visual arts and the community and an exquisite visual symbol that Wheeling, West Virginia values art, culture, and history.

In our galleries, classrooms, and performance spaces, people gather to be inspired and motivated by art.

Children’s imaginations run wild, and their faces fill with wonder as they create art with their own hands. Teens from throughout the region beam with pride at the sight of their work on the Stifel walls. Artists, novice and professional alike, collaborate, share techniques, and learn together—whether they’re picking up a brush or a piece of clay for the first time or have spent a lifetime honing their craft. Curated, themed exhibitions draw visitors into spirited conversation or quiet contemplation as they wander the galleries.

These observers, creators, and seekers make authentic connections and exchange ideas about art—and life. At Stifel Fine Arts Center, they break cultural, educational, and generational barriers and open themselves up to new ways of seeing through the experience and creation of visual art.


For more than 90 years, the nonprofit Oglebay Institute has welcomed people of all ages and backgrounds to engage in authentic arts, nature, and cultural experiences.These experiences enrich our lives and connect us more deeply to the people and the world around us.

Oglebay Institute Venues
• Schrader Environmental Education Center
• Oglebay Institute’s School of Dance
• Stifel Fine Arts Center
• The Museums of Oglebay Institute (Mansion & Glass Museums)
• Towngate Theatre