Wheeling is once again home to a thriving pottery.
In 2018, Adam and Beth Bedway took the last step that made them both full-time together in their own arts-based business. It’s a leap a lot of people have considered but shied away from as too risky. But they’d prepared well and they haven’t looked back.
Both local to the Wheeling area, the Bedways met as students at nearby Bethany College: He had a focus on ceramics; she, on sculpture and printmaking. They got together for a while, drifted apart, and came back together.
But post-college work-life wasn’t terribly satisfying. He had a contracting business. She was doing document-processing for lawyers. “We decided we really hated our jobs,” Adam Bedway says. “We didn’t have kids yet and had paid off our house, and we decided to lean into an arts business because that was something we really enjoyed.”
They started it part-time out of a garage in East Wheeling in 2016. As the business grew, Beth Bedway quit her job to go full-time—and immediately got pregnant. That could have felt like one complication too many, but they already had momentum. “Adam was finishing out his contracting schedule at the time,” she says. “So it kind of lit a fire to make the business as successful as we possibly could.” The business thrived and grew.
East Wheeling Clayworks turns out dozens of useful designs: table- and cookware as well as decor like bud vases and match strikers, all in a distinctive style with wide appeal. “Adam describes it as ‘rustic modern,’” Beth Bedway says. “It’s a good look for people who really want to be able to see that their pieces are handmade, but it has a lot of clean lines that fit with modern decor really well.” The style is a reflection of Wheeling, she reflects. “There are rural aspects and industrial aspects—we take a lot from our environment.”
The couple’s skills mesh. He designs most of the pottery, with lots of input from her. She throws some pots, does neat hand-lettering on the state magnets and garden markers, and is skilled at the graphic design and printing side of the business.
It’s all housed in a historic Victorian building on Market Street that they bought in October 2020, close enough to downtown to work as an events destination. Production takes place on the lower level. Six employees, plus the Bedways when they can, hand-work clay into beautiful, functional pieces. In the street-level storefront above, they sell their own pieces alongside complementary work from other artisans. “So we sell Hippie’s Daughter macrame plant hangers made in West Virginia that our pots fit in,” Beth Bedway says. They also sell some quality items that are not locally handmade but fit their aesthetic, including candles, incense, and wooden spoons.
Adam Bedway on small-business resilience.
Not everybody wants to come in and buy pottery. But we live in a town where there aren’t a lot of arts events so, to diversify our income stream, we started doing “Sculpt and Gulps”—BYOB, everybody has a great time. Those took off like crazy.
When COVID-19 hit, we’d pre-sold five months of events—refunding it all would have put us out of business. We gave customers four options: We made take-home Sculpt and Gulp kits—bring it back and we’d fire it for them; 2) we gave gift certificates; 3) we could make their project for them; and 4) we made a limited-edition pandemic mug they could choose.
Get the Community Invested
Our events got a lot of local people into our shop, and we always told our story when we had a crowd in front of us. People became invested and wanted to see us thrive. So, when COVID hit, people supported us.
The combination of a pottery style that resonates, savvy management—Adam Bedway is a fourth-generation Wheeling small business owner—and the couple’s hard work and sunny personalities is paying off. They produced 2,500 pieces in 2020, 13,000 pieces in 2021, and are confident about hitting 20,000 this year. They couldn’t be happier they decided to strike out on their own.
“We are able to build the life that we want,” Beth Bedway says. “It’s a lot of work, but our daughter doesn’t have to go to daycare—she can come with us to the shop—and we are able to be creative in our everyday lives. It can be difficult to find a job that lets you do that.”
And there’s the satisfaction of providing jobs and honoring history. “I really like the idea that we, as an arts-based business in a place like Wheeling, can take care of people for as long as they work here,” Adam Bedway says. “And Wheeling used to be pottery central—so it’s cool to bring something like this back.”
The Shape of Things To Come
The Bedways detail the production process of an East Wheeling Clayworks mug.
For minimal variation, we start with the same amount of clay by weight for each piece in a series.
Here, we use the spinning motion of the potter’s wheel to shape the clay into one of our Everyday Mugs.
Once the piece sets to a firm but damp consistency, we trim the bottom edge to round and smooth it.
We score the mug and apply the handle with care to form a strong bond and an ergonomic position.
Pieces are fired twice: The bisque firing removes moisture, and the glaze firing forms the decorative surface.
Once the piece is out of the glaze kiln, it’s ready to go to its new home and be used for many, many years.
READ MORE ARTICLES FROM WV LIVING’S SUMMER 2022 ISSUE
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