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 John Potter Wheat  (1920 - 1980)

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Lived/Active: Connecticut / Mexico      Known for: landscape, genre, mural painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
John Potter Wheat (1920-1980)

Written and submitted by Bonnie Ensley Wheat, daughter of John Potter Wheat

Born:  April 22, 1920 in New York City
Married: 1940 in New York City to Barbara Louise Kahl
Died: April 1, 1980 in San Diego de la Union, San Luis Potosi, Mexico in a car accident.

My father studied at the Art Students League at the Yale School of Fine Arts.  He graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts degree.  

My father’s work under went changes over the course of his life.  He primarily began painting in water color at the beginning of his career.  He also painted in oil.  When acrylic paint became available, he painted in this medium almost exclusively, at least to my knowledge.   He was also known for his lithographs.  During World War II, he was a Corporal in the U.S. Army and worked for the Department of Strategic Services.  I do not know what mediums he worked in at this time.  

My father was known for his landscapes although he did paint portraits or figures infrequently.  Again he also inked lithographs, but to my knowledge, infrequently.  My father went through a realistic period where he painted a great many barns, New England scenes and churches.  Later he began using the palette knife and painting in a realistic/surrealistic manner.  He painted murals throughout his life- for the OSS in WWII and murals relating historical events in, among other places, Keokuk, Iowa (? South Central bank in Keokuk, Iowa has a huge mural depicting the city’s role in the westward expansion of the country).  He also painted numerous murals depicting historical events for movie theaters and other venues.   My father was very meticulous in his depictions of dress, equipment, etc. in his paintings, murals because he wanted to be absolutely true to the historical time.  

My father began a family in Darien, Connecticut with my mother, Barbara Louise Kahl Wheat.  In 1954, they divorced.   My father rented a studio apartment in Stamford, Ct. until he moved to San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico in 1961 and joined his friend and mentor, Frederick Whitaker.  He exhibited frequently at Sylvia Samuelson’s gallery in that town as well as other galleries in the town of San Miguel De Allende.  In 1963-64 ( I am unsure of the exact dates) he lived in Marbella, Spain for a time before returning to  Mexico to live.  It may have been there that he developed the surrealism seen in his later paintings.  He lived in San Miguel de Allende until his death in 1980.  

In 1968, he was commissioned by the army to paint the Vietnam War.  He was the official combat artist in Vietnam for the Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the army.  He was in Vietnam from November 16th, 1968 until December, 16th,  1968.  Twelve major paintings and 160 drawings were accepted by the U.S Army Historical Collection on January 1st, 1970.

My father’s works are owned by the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, CT, The Springfield Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, Mass., and The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.  Doubtless, other Museums also own his art as he was a prolific artist and well regarded by his peers.

In his life, my father was a member of the American Water Color Society.  In a partial biography he wrote that he was also an associate member of the National Academy of Design.

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