It was raining.
That was as good an excuse as any for Barnegat Light’s Jerry Bohnert and his family to make the hour-and-a-half drive to Millville on a recent Thursday to visit the Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center.
It was Bohnert’s granddaughter’s first time at Wheaton Arts. Ravyn, 8, wanted to see how glass is made. The center’s glass studio is a popular draw for many visitors.
But before the live demonstration scheduled at 3:30 p.m., they stopped into the ceramics studio. Clay pots were being thrown and spun by two staff members.
Glass may be a focus for visitors at Wheaton Arts — and the name of the neighboring Glasstown Arts District gallery area — but it’s not the only attraction on a campus that houses 18 buildings.
Wheaton Arts is open nine months of the year. Last year, more than 60,000 visitors came. Big events help add to those numbers, including the Festival of Fine Craft in the fall.
But sometimes it takes a quiet stroll through the grounds to appreciate Wheaton.
If there aren’t crowds, you can comfortably fit in the paper-making studio, for one. It’s a small cottage-like building toward the end of the long, wide path from Wheaton’s main gates. The building used to hold the woodcarver studio.
Cherelle Oriolo can joyfully explain how wood pulp, sometimes mixed with pages of old books or magazines, can be hydrated, squeezed, pressed, and even ironed to create rustic, scalloped-edged paper. Or how she creates beads out of paper, the central focus of a bracelet or pair of earrings that she offers for sale.
Then there’s the ceramics building. Terry Plasket, of Vineland, is often seen right after you walk in the front door (If they’re out front, be sure to greet the parrots. They might not do anything. They might yell. Just another layer of color to the place).
He’s usually painting and priming already-molded ceramics, ready to go in one of the studio’s three outdoor kilns. In the 35 years he’s worked at Wheaton Arts, he said, he and his staff have been able to connect with visitors, as well as potters around the world via social media.
A small section of the ceramics studio contains mostly utilitarian works like mugs and bowls available for purchase. Other works, including those made in the glass and ceramics studio, are housed in the Paperweight Shop/Gallery of Fine Craft/Down Jersey Folklife Center.
The gallery itself is a small museum space, separate from the main Museum of American Glass. Soon, a new exhibit — Shades of Past, Colors of Present — will be put up.
Or you can just walk around. Trees line pathways where buildings don’t stand. Adirondack chairs are set in circles close to the Glassmaking Studio if you need a rest. Some people just come to Wheaton for the walk.