The following information was provided by Mary Stilwell Van Loan, Wilber Stilwell's daughter.
In 1909, Wilber moved with his family from Covington, Indiana, to Imporia, Kansas, where he was raised. He attended the Kansas City Art Institute from 1929-1933. R.A. Holland, the director of the KCAI at that time, wrote, "Mr. Stilwell is not only one of our most talented students but a young man of fine character and industrious."
In 1930, he was selected to paint a mural for the Lindberg Theatre and won a cash award and the Harold B. Franklin Trophy. In 1932, he won second prize in oil portraiture and first prize in wrought iron design at the Missouri State Fair. In 1933, he won the bronze medal for Tiger Eating, charcoal, in the Midwest Artists Exhibition, choosing from the best works from 5 states, and also marries Gladys Louise Ferree, of Imporia, Kansas. In 1934, he wins third place in the Midwestern Artists Exhibition for Sante Fe Roundhouse, pastel. This exhibition included Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry, and Thomas Hart Benton. In 1934, he exhibited a watercolor painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and works for 10 months on 25 murals at the Dyche Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas as part of a Civil Works Project. There was also at least one oil painting that was commissioned as a WPA project.
From 1933-35, he established the Emporia School of Art and and taught fine and commercial arts. From 1935 to 1939, he was the registrar at the Kansas City Art Institute where he worked with Thomas Hart Benton, who was also on faculty at that time. In 1936, he again won third prize in the Midwestern Artists Exhibition. From 1938-1940, he was awarded over 50 premiums, first, second, and third place prizes in Fine and Commercial Arts in professional exhibitions in the USA, predominantly Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. In 1940, Wilber earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Education from the Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia. In 1941, he earned his Masters of Art degree from the University of Iowa, Iowa City. Members of his graduate committee included Emil Ganso, Chair, and Fletcher Martin.
In 1941, Wilber became Chair of the Art Department at the University of South Dakota, Vermillion. In 1942, he won the Sweepstake Award in prints and first place in color lithography at the Kansas Art Exhibition, Topeka. During his time as Chair of the Art Department at USD, Wilber established the USD Summer High School Art Camp, served many times as judge for the art competitions at the Missouri State Fair and the South Dakota State Fair, published with his wife, Gladys, many articles in the School Arts magazine and the Minneapolis Tribune, served as the South Dakota Director of American Art Week, won many awards in the national competition for reports and books designed, authored, and edited about American Art Week in South Dakota.
1966 was a very big year for Wilber when he was awarded the National Gallery of Art Medal for Distinguished Service to Education by Lady Bird Johnson at the White House and also was awarded the rarely bestowed gold medal for Distinguished Service to American Art by Wheeler Williams and the American Artists Professional League in New York City. Wilber retired from USD in 1973 and died unexpectedly in 1974 while visiting family in Kansas City, Kansas. In 1984, John A. Day of USD and Gladys Stilwell initiated "The Stilwell Annual Student Awards Exhibition", in Wilber's honor, and it continues to the present day.
In 2003, the University of South Dakota, launched the Wilber Stilwell Retrospective Exhibition with 26 of Wilber's works displayed. In March, 2009, USD presented "Rediscovered Talent: Retrospective Exhibition of Wilber Stilwell" highlighting 50 works including oils, watercolors, charcoals, stone lithographs, cartoons, pencils, pen and ink, colored pencils, and pastels. This show is intended to begin touring in the five state Midwest Region sometime after August, 2009.