When most people celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary, it involves renewing vows, but for Jim and Linda Winegar, their golden anniversary focused on their joint career as potters.
Recently, friends and family converged on the Winegar’s 60-acre property in Graysville, Greene County, to help them celebrate 50 years of working with clay. Folks brought all sorts of covered dishes and libations, then sat around tables, talking about art, seasoned friendships and shared experiences.
Throughout the day, people wandered in and out of the working studio and gallery on the bottom floor of the Winegar’s ivy-covered estate, then peeked into the nearby kiln room where the couple fires their pottery. From the second floor of the couple’s 1880s barn, a trio made up of friends and one of their old college buddies, entertained the crowd later that afternoon.
One of Linda’s classmates from Waynesburg High School, Deborah Garrison Richner and her husband, Darrel, drove in from State College to attend the celebration.
“Linda and I have seen each other every five years at class reunions, but we’ve also stayed in touch when Linda and Jim attend the People’s Choice Festival in Boalsburg near State College,” she said. “I’m so glad we came to Graysville to help them celebrate. They’re really great people.”
As for Jim, you could say his experience with clay goes even further back than 50 years. A story he told at the celebration has it that his boyhood home in Warrendale had a pond from which he and his mother dug clay and formed all sort of creatures.
In 1966, he enrolled in Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he studied art education. Two years later, Linda left her childhood home in Waynesburg and enrolled in the same university with the same goal of becoming an art educator.
The couple met in the clay studio, a favorite art student hangout back then, and struck up an acquaintance. In 1970 they married, and, while Linda finished up her studies, Jim went on to earn a masters in Art Education.
After graduating in 1972, their careers took them to Worcester, Massachusetts, where Jim taught in the public school system for nine years while Linda worked as a substitute elementary school teacher. Neither of them, however, lost their interest in clay and continued to make pieces, which they showcased in a local gallery with the catchy name “The Prints and the Potter Gallery.” The gallery remains open to this day, and Winegar pottery is still part of its inventory.
Neither husband nor wife can remember the first item they sold, although they believe it must have been a mug, which remains the most popular item to this day.
In 2001, while in Worcester, they began going to national arts and craft shows meant for wholesalers. There they took along brochures, catalogs of the 40 to 60 items in their inventory and samples of their work. At their peak, they sold to 90 shops and galleries, some located as far away as California, Alaska and Hawaii.
Family ties started to tug on Linda’s heartstrings even before they decided to move back to Greene County in 1987.
“Our daughter was 5 at the time, my parents were still living there and I wanted Amanda to be close to her grandparents,” Linda said.
After finding an affordable 60-acre property with a house and barn, they moved in and got to work. While putting a 6-month hiatus on pottery making, they shored up the barn and built an 18 by 20-foot kiln building, which, over the years, has seen over 800 firings.
Besides attending a half dozen arts and craft festivals each year, they both continued to teach. Jim taught at Right Way Academy in Waynesburg for two years, showing substance-dependent teens how to make art. For two additional years, he taught the prisoners at SCI Fayette drawing, printmaking and painting. Both Jim and Linda also filled in as art instructors for Washington and Jefferson College.
Before gradually phasing out the wholesale component of their long-lived partnership, they were co-op members of the Irongate Gallery in Waynesburg. In the late 1990s, they became 11-year members of the Artists Co-Op in Washington, Pa. until it closed in 2009.
“When a group of people in Waynesburg wanted to revitalize downtown Waynesburg, one idea was to open a gallery that eventually went on to become the ArtBeat Gallery,” Linda said. From 2012 to 2018, they ran the gallery that once represented over 90 artists at its peak.
As members of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, they attend the annual 3-day conference and its workshops, exhibits and panel discussions.
With all the energy they’ve devoted to their careers, they still found time to become some of the first members of the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Both still sit on its board of directors. For 25 years, they also participated in the Odyssey of the Mind, a creative problem-solving competition for students of all ages.
Since ArtBeat closed last year, the Winegars have been making a lot more pottery in their studio. To keep things fresh, they visit other potters’ studios, go to shows where they meet new people and scour the Internet to see what is going on in the world of pottery.
“Styles change and we’re always experimenting in new things,” Jim said. “Right now I’m doing a lot of hand-carved images in my pottery while Linda has been adding semi-precious stones to her pieces.”
“It’s amazing how you can make contact online with people around the world,” Linda said.
One of the guests at the 50th anniversary celebration, Meg Rauth of Castle Shannon, said she loves Winegar pottery and bought a shopping bag full of items to take home.
“They make a higher quality of pottery than others I’ve seen,” she said. “They’re also very people-friendly, which is probably one of the reasons why they’ve done so well.”
For more information on the couple’s work, winegarpottery.com.