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Hughlette Wheeler

 (1901 - 1955)
Hughlette Wheeler was active/lived in California, Florida.  Hughlette Wheeler is known for horse sculpture.

Hughlette Wheeler

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following, submitted December 2005, is from Mary Shearhart, niece of the artist.

He was born at Fort Christmas, Florida in April 24, 1901.  My mother, three years younger,  was his only sibling and very close as their mother died when he was only five and raised like foster children by friends and family members.  His father was not a good provider and basically abandoned them until they were old enough to work around the home and keep house for him. 

He showed exceptional artistic talent at a very young age.  His teen years were spent as a cowhand in the wilds of Orange and Osceola Counties in Central Florida.  He remained a simple, Florida Cracker, and with all his travel and social association with very wealthy people, he remained unchanged, as  gracious with Cowboy friends he grew up with as the wealthy who sought his friendship and paid him his commissions.

One day as he was cowpunching, he picked up a cowhorn and whittled out a cow's head with a pocket knife.  It was only about the size of a golf ball with a loop to hold a neck bandana.  I have it and the expression in the small cow's eyes catch your gaze and holds it.  It is a remarkable piece of art.  Around the age of 22 his daddy's first cousin in Cleveland, Ohio came to visit and saw his talent and offered to give him room and board so he could attend the Cleveland Institute of Art.  His daddy was penniless with no resources and an old maid aunt paid his tuition.  When asked to make a flower out of a piece of clay he made something he knew very well -a horse.   His teacher took one look and his eyes almost popped out and asked if he would consent to his having it cast in bronze.  It won him the Herman Matzen Scholarship for a year's study in Paris at age 24.  It was there, in his cowboy hat and boots that he picked up the nickname of Tex and it stuck with him for life.

When he came back to the USA he headed west where the horses and ranches were and the wealthy of the nation that sought his services. All his work was on commission and sometimes he would go do a commisson for a horse owner, be asked to stay and spend five years.  Having an artistic temperament he could be unpredictable and procrastinating.  He would rather go penniless than do a model of a horse he did not like.  He said no two horses were alike, just like humans and he was adamant in getting the likeness and movements of an individual horse so that none of his bronzes looked the same.

Most of his models were cast by the lost-wax process in which, in the last operation, a wax image of the statue is melted out of a fire- proof cast and then molten bronze is poured into the cavity.  His only child, a daughter, was born at the Will Rogers Ranch in Pacific Palisades in California and named for Mrs Rogers, Betty Blake Wheeler.  It was a stormy marriage, having been married ("suddenly") late in life, at the age of 41.  Some of his best-known works besides the life-sized statue of Seabiscuit and his jockey, George Woolf, were Citation, owned by Calumet Farms, and Kayak the Second.  And many private statues of his very rich friends scatterd over the Southwest.

Severe rheumatoid arthritis attacked him around 1943.  In ill health for several years, he succumed to a fatal heart attack brought on by constant severe pain and alcoholism to relieve the pain on December 12, 1955 at Fort Christmas, now called simply, Christmas in east Orange County, Florida.   He is buried there, where his mother was born and buried, and many of his family dating back to the Civil War Era. 

Biography from the Archives of askART
The following is from Nancy De Grove, Tallahassee, Florida:

The information of the artist Hughlette (Tex) Wheeler on your website was interesting to me as I knew little about him except that he was named for my grandfather, William Leland Hughlett.

My grandfather practiced medicine in the Cocoa-Rockledge area and surrounding counties in Florida from 1884 to his death in 1927.   In the early years of his practice he got around by horseback and sailboat on the Indian River.

My mother told me that her father, Dr. Hughlette, delivered a baby to a family named Wheeler somewhere in the area of Eau Gallie, Florida, and they named him Hughlette for the doctor, which was often done in those days.   She also told me that he lived in the West and became a cowboy and artist.

This was many years ago.  I had never seen any of his work until about 10 years ago when I saw several bronzes of horse and rider by Hughlette Wheeler at a plantation in Thomasville, Georgia. I realized this was the person mama had told me about.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Hughlette "Tex" Wheeler was born in Fort Christmas, Florida and studied in Chicago where he learned to model horses.  In Alhambra, California, he became a frequent visitor to the studio of Frank Tenney Johnson, and there he met other western artists including Ed Borein and Charles Russell.

When Johnson died in 1939, Wheeler used his studio to sculpt his best known work, the life-size statue of Seabiscuit.

He also lived on the Rincon ranch in Tucson, and he died at Fort Christmas, Florida in 1955.

Wheeler's work is rare.

Harold and Peggy Samuels, Artists of the American West
Birth and death information is from Barbara Wheeler Bass, daughter of Hughlette Wheeler

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Florida in 1901, "Tex" Wheeler studied at the Art Institute of Chicago.  While a resident of Hollywood in 1932-42, he specialized in horses, cattle, and western subjects.  He was a frequent visitor to the studio of Frank Tenney Johnson, and when Johnson died, he used his studio to sculpt his best known work, the statue of Seabiscuit.  He died in Christmas, Florida on December 25, 1955. His works are rare.

Olympiad, LACMA, 1932; Ilsley Gallery (LA), 1933; Biltmore Salon (LA), 1939; GGIE, 1940.

Amon Carter Museum (Fort Worth); Will Rogers State Park (Santa Monica); Santa Anita Park (Seabiscuit).

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Artists of the American West (Samuels); Los Angeles Times, 4-1-1932.

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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About  Hughlette Wheeler

Born:  1901 - Fort Christmas, Florida
Died:   1955 - Fort Christmas, Florida
Known for:  horse sculpture