Wheel of Fortune

Take an area native’s talent and vision, combine that with his family’s supportive involvement, and the result is a creative new artistic venture in downtown Wheeling.

Paul Latos, an experienced potter and native of Windsor Heights, has opened the Linn Pottery Studio and Gallery, located at 1035 Chapline St. Grand opening festivities are slated from noon to 8 p.m. Thursday, July 14, with drawings every two hours, and a hot dog vendor dispensing treats from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

While hot dogs may be on the menu, all eyes will be on the pigs – the whimsical stoneware piggy bank, that is – and the other functional and elegant pieces that this gifted artisan creates on site. The descriptive motto for his artistic output is “beautifully designed and expertly handcrafted pottery.”

Latos, who has returned to his home region after several years of living in central West Virginia, has received moral support as well as physical labor for this project from his extended family, including his brother, Dr. Derrick Latos of Wheeling, and Rick’s wife, Michelle.

“It’s a family affair. We’re trying to do what we can,” said Michelle Latos, who also is helping out with the business’ retail operation.

The new studio and gallery are located in a building that had housed the former Stenger printing operation. Paul Latos is utilizing all four floors of the building – from the basement to the third floor – for his pottery studio, kilns, gallery and retail space, storage and shipping areas, and his residence. “This building works wonderfully,” Michelle Latos said.

Located across the street from the Booker T. Washington Apartments, the building is set back from Chapline Street and boasts a sizable front parking lot – a rarity in the downtown area.

While the Latos family has done considerable work to renovate the property to accommodate the artistic aspects of the new venture, the building – which is estimated to be about 100 years old – already contained amenities that were conducive to the business’ operation, such as a large freight elevator and shelving in the storage and shipping rooms.

Exposed red brick walls, that were sandblasted about 10 years ago by the previous owners, and new tile flooring offer a pleasing backdrop for the displays of pottery arranged throughout the main-floor gallery. “The brick really makes it,” Michelle Latos observed.

The artist built all of the wooden display cases for the showroom. His sister-in-law pointed out that the functional, clean lines of the display cases conceal interior shelves where additional inventory can be stored for easy retrieval.

Serving as a creative legacy, the front of the gallery is enhanced by a display of large potted plants that had been cultivated by the late Steve Vasiliou, who was a well-known Wheeling potter and gardener.

The basement level is where the potter’s massive gas and electric kilns are located. Drying vats for the plaster and a sanding area are situated nearby. An inventory room and shipping area complete the operation.

The artistic process begins on the second floor where Paul Latos can be found creating individual pieces on his pottery wheel. During a tour last week, the potter was busy making bases for a large tableful of clay tops that would become beautiful stoneware.

After the pieces dry, the potter transports them by elevator to the basement where his clay creations are fired in an electric kiln. Emerging as bisqueware, the individual pieces are returned to the second floor for glazing. After being glazed, the pottery is taken back to the basement for firing in a gas kiln to become stoneware. The bottom of each cup or plate is sanded so that it won’t scratch a table surface during regular usage, Michelle Latos said.

The large gas kiln is a state-of-the-art, computerized model that can heat to a temperature of 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Since beginning his work at this site, Paul Latos has done 10 to 13 firings in the new kiln. The artist explained that it took him about nine firings to get the kiln’s settings to where he wanted. Now, the computerized settings heat the bisqueware to the desired temperatures in the insulated, energy-efficient chamber.

Paul Latos estimated that the energy cost for one firing is about $40, which he indicated is a lot more efficient than older kilns.

Meanwhile, the Latos family is transforming the third floor into an apartment where Paul Latos now resides. Large windows offer a sunny view of the neighborhood and adjacent wooded hillsides. Eventually, they may remove a number of interior walls to create an open, loft-style living area.

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To mark the new beginning for this phase of his artistic career, Paul Latos ventured into the new studio on New Year’s Eve and made three large pitchers. He threw the first pot in the Chapline Street building at 1:11 a.m. on New Year’s Day. The time of this momentous occasion is etched in the bottom of the ewer, with the distinctive time and date noted: “1:11” on “1-1-11.”

Commenting, “I love my work,” Paul Latos said he spends 12 to 14 hours a day working in his new studio. His products include dinnerware, decorative and functional bowls, pitchers, canisters, vases and, of course, the piggy banks.

An early version of the piggy bank that the artist created for his nephew many years ago can be seen in a glass-fronted display case in the office area of the gallery. The current, more evolved piggy banks, with perky ears, bright eyes and cork snouts, are available for purchase in the showroom.

The potter explained that the majority of production from his studio is stoneware, reduction-fired in the gas kiln at temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. He said, “The glazes are completely lead-free, easy to clean, and are safe to use in the microwave, oven, refrigerator and dishwasher.”

He said he crafts ornamental work from specially-designed clay with glazes that are meant to be unique for each piece. He added, “Specialty items, such as those made of porcelain, require specific materials and firing techniques.”

The artist commented, “Rich earth-tone glazes enhance almost every decor. Slight variations of size, shape and color, occurring in the individual handmade construction and firing techniques, add a distinct quality and uniqueness to each piece.”

All of the Linn Pottery glazes have been developed from his experience of nearly 35 years as a potter, but the artist said he creates new colors and styles based on his mood and creativity.

In addition to producing and selling pottery, the artist plans to develop educational programs dealing with pottery and ceramics and special programs that will serve as showcases for the work of selected artisans from West Virginia. He hopes to offer pottery classes in an outdoor setting and, eventually perhaps, within the studio.

Paul Latos and his new venture are featured in the summer issue of WV Living magazine. A one-page article notes that he began making pottery in high school, but experimented earlier with unprocessed clay that he dug up in the woods near his family’s Windsor Heights home.

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A 1971 graduate of Brooke High School, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in art at Glenville State College and a Master of Fine Arts degree in ceramics from West Virginia University.

He served as an adjunct instructor of pottery at Fairmont State University for 12 years.

He established Linn Pottery in 1979. The name of the business was chosen in homage to the small town where he resided, Linn, W.Va., located between Weston and Glenville.

His pottery has been sold across the nation and in a number of other countries, including Canada, Japan, Korea and Ireland. He has supplied pieces to more than 125 craft shops throughout the United States.

A recipient of several juried pottery awards, he said his pottery has been shown in numerous regional and national exhibitions. His work was featured in an invitational exhibit at the Clay Place in Carnegie, Pa., in June.

Currently, his work is on view in the “Crosscurrents 2011” exhibition continuing through Friday, July 29, at Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling. His work will be shown in an exhibit, “Still Life: Object on Display,” at Tamarack in Beckley from Sunday, Aug. 21, through Friday, Oct. 28.

Selected as one of Tamarack’s top 15 artists, Paul Latos has been producing pottery for that center since its inception in 1996. Locally, he has provided pottery for the Wheeling Civic Garden Center, Wheeling Artisan Center and Artworks Around Town.

The Linn Pottery Studio and Gallery is open for retail business from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Purchases also can be made online from the gallery’s website, www.linnpottery.com.