Wood man’s collection on exhibit at museum

WHEELING – In 2003, James L. Webster of Wood County wrote a book on the Wheeling Decorating Co., a business in Wheeling that closed in 1962.

When Webster was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008, he donated his entire collection of Wheeling Decorating items to The Museums of Oglebay Institute in Wheeling that year and in 2009. Webster, a retired DuPont researcher, passed away on March 11 at the age of 78.

Webster’s collection of glassware, pottery and china is on public display at The Museums of Oglebay Institute, in the Mansion Museum, until Oct. 3.

The Wheeling Decorating Co. bought blanks of china from companies, such as Homer Laughlin, and added beautiful decorations of flowers, animals, birds and all-over patterns, said Marsha Webster of Vienna, James’ wife.

In the late 1990s, the Websters were looking for Wheeling Decorating items to give as gifts. They found pieces produced by Wheeling Decorating, but could not find any information about the company.

So James Webster set out to learn more about the company, which was headquartered at 700 Market St. in Wheeling and was in business from 1900-1962.

Before writing his book, Webster interviewed former employees and their families and collected more than 600 pieces of Wheeling Decorating items. As a DuPont researcher for many years, Webster, in a Parkersburg newspaper interview in 2003, said he enjoyed researching the Wheeling Decorating story.

In the 2003 newspaper story, Webster noted that most of the country’s glass, porcelain and pottery makers were at one time concentrated within 100 miles of Wheeling, in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Webster’s book details the beginnings of the company and the book includes photographs of 500 Wheeling Decorating pieces and their approximate market values.

The Websters visited more than 100 antique shops in search of Wheeling Decorating pieces. They bought many items from online auction services such as eBay.

Wheeling Decorating was established by Frank Herman Thurm, who was born in Dresden, Germany, in 1869. He settled in Wheeling in 1893 and may have gone to work for the Ohio Valley China Co., according to Webster’s book.

Wheeling Decorating Co. was owned at one time by the late Leland Taylor, the grandfather of Marsha Webster’s son-in-law, Russell Norman of Louisville, Ky.

“Russell and his wife, Kelly, my daughter, and my grandson, Trent Norman, and I traveled to Wheeling on Friday, Aug. 1, for a private review of the extensive exhibit,” Martha Webster said.

“We were met by curator (of collections) Lindsey Davis and a fellow employee of the museum, Holly McCluskey (curator of glass). One whole exhibit room displayed large replicas of several informative pages from Jim’s book and many groupings of his collection which totaled 1,100 pieces,” Webster said.

The museum has 1,200 Wheeling Decorating Co. items on display in the Oglebay Museum, Davis said.

Marsha Webster said she was pleased by the way the collection looked in the Oglebay museum.

Another display of only the over-gold pieces from Wheeling Decorating will be on display at the Wheeling museum from Nov. 8 to Jan. 4.