Born in Wadesboro North Carolina, the son of a professional forester, Jim Wheeler describes himself as an ‘amateur botanist’, studying both art and biology at university. His interest in plants and how plant communities evolve, continues to inform his sculptural practice today.
Jim Wheeler graduated 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 the Art Works sculpture foundry.
A member of Medal 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 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. The installation commemorates the vanished natural environment. It recalls the time before Auckland was built, when Queen Street was still a streambed. On the bush-clad hillside, trees would have overhung this stream and a ‘falling’ Pohutukawa or Rata flower would have been a commonplace sight.
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 and The Wallace Arts Trust. He has been included in major New Zealand sculpture exhibitions including Sculpture in the Gardens, Auckland Botanic Gardens, Brick Bay Sculpture Park, Sculpture Onshore and Sculpture on the Gulf.