The Wheel Mobile: Pittsburgh’s one-of-a-kind pottery experience for all ages

All photos courtesy of Union Project.

If you’re on the hunt for a unique experience that will leave your kids spinning with joy, check out the Wheel Mobile. This year, Union Project has been hitting the streets of Pittsburgh with this revolutionary mobile ceramics studio, making the fun of pottery accessible to communities, schools and families.

The Wheel Mobile isn’t your typical vehicle. It’s a fully-equipped mobile clay studio complete with clay, tools, a potter’s wheel, and even a Raku kiln. This unique offering allows Union Project’s teaching artists to go wherever there’s a road — whether it’s a playground, neighborhood festival, library or community center.

Kids and adults can explore wheel throwing, hand-building and Raku firing to create their own pottery pieces and experience the magic of working with clay firsthand.

How it Works

Everything needed for creating beautiful pottery pops out of the van – a tent, the potter’s wheel, tools, tables and clay. The Wheel Mobile can even bring along a Raku kiln for a firing demonstration. A Union Project artist will demonstrate the process and invite kids to help form the clay.

When we are out with the Wheel Mobile, participants have loved getting to ask for a mug or a bowl or a vase and watch it all come together in front of them,” says Sam McCoy Smith, one of the teaching artists. “Children always ask to help pull up the walls of the pot or ask to poke the pot to see what happens when it knocks off center.”

The motion and power of the wheel is fascinating for all ages. Wheel Mobile teachers describe how young toddlers have stood mesmerized by the spinning wheel for half an hour.

Plus, the opportunity for hands-on involvement gets kids excited. “Kids just really like clay, whether its watching the wheel, getting to touch the clay on the wheel, or making their own little trinkets,”Smith says. “It just seems super satisfying for them to get to be a part of making.”

What is Union Project?

Union Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building meaningful community connections through the art of ceramics. Their ceramic studio in Highland Park offers programming for people of all ages and skill levels, from art classes to professional development for working artists. Beyond helping people make beautiful things, their goal is to unite communities through inclusive events and programming that celebrate art and artists, collaboration, inclusivity and joy.

Michelle Clesse, deputy director at Union Project, believes clay can and should be used to unite people and build empathy. Clay is something everyone should have the chance to explore, she says.

Union Project teachers had previously been reaching out to the community by filling their own cars with supplies and doing demonstrations. Thanks to a RADical ImPAct Grant from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD), the Wheel Mobile was born.

This mobile studio is now a key part of Union Project’s mission, fostering creativity, self-expression and a deeper understanding of pottery in Pittsburgh’s diverse communities — a mission they’ve been dedicated to for over 20 years. 

A One-of-a-Kind Experience

Here’s the really fun part: The Wheel Mobile can come to you. From school programs and birthday parties to social or professional gatherings for adults, an educational ceramics experience can be personalized for your needs. Options include getting hands-on with clay, trying out the potter’s wheel and even a make-and-take option. You can plan a one-time event or multiple visits to delve deeper into the ceramic process.

The Wheel Mobile can also support existing school curriculums and arts programming. Kindergarteners, in particular, seem to love this tactile experience of exploring clay – rolling it, shaping it, or squishing it in their little hands.

A school booking might include eight visits spread over a few months, providing education and hands-on experience with various clay techniques. Alison Babusci, an arts education consultant at Union Project, has seen the joy on young kids’ faces when they see their creations after glazing and firing. They take immense pride in bringing their projects, such as a small bowl for their cereal, home for everyday use.

See the Wheel Mobile in Action 

Everyone is invited to check out the Wheel Mobile’s Workshop PGH at 5131 Penn Avenue on Oct. 6. During a wheel-throwing demonstrations and hands-on opportunities, these events offer everyone the chance to try out this mesmerizing art form. Check Union Project’s calendar for more information.