Wheeler studied art under Bert Carpenter and sculptor Peter Agostini, earning a BA with Honours at the University of North Carolina before becoming an apprentice at the Johnson Atelier Technical Institute of Sculpture in the 1970s. In 1981 he immigrated to New Zealand to help set up Art Works sculpture foundry.
A member of Medallic Artists New Zealand, his reputation as one of the country’s foremost bronze sculptors has led to a number of significant commissions, including the NZ Olympic Academy Leonard A Cuff Medal, The Arts Foundation of NZ Governors’ Medal and the XXX America’s Cup Medal.
Jim Wheeler’s large-scale commissions are grounded in nature and exemplify both his skill as a sculptor and his passion for environmental issues. One such commission, Pohutukawa/Rata Descending, measures 2.5 metres across and can be seen, suspended mid-air, in the atrium of 280 Queen Street, Auckland.
In 2013 Wheeler was part of a collective of 22 artists who staged a free sculpture exhibition, Summer of Sculpture, in Auckland’s Wynard Quarter. The artist-initiated project, driven by the Outdoor Sculpture 2001 Incorporated Society, was designed and curated especially for the unique landscape of Wynyard quarter.
A full-time art practitioner since 1989, Wheeler has been exhibiting for over thirty years. His work is held in The British Museum, London, The Weatherspoon Art Museum, USA, The Auckland Museum, The James Wallace Trust and Zealandia, Mahurangi. He has also been included in major New Zealand sculpture exhibitions including Shapeshifter, The New Dowse, Sculpture in the Gardens, Auckland Botanic Gardens, Brick Bay Sculpture Park, Matakana, Sculpture Onshore and Sculpture on the Gulf and Growth Industry at Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens.