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 Thom Wheeler  (1946 - )

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Lived/Active: New Mexico/Texas      Known for: iconic wall relief metal sculpture

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Biography from The Marshall - LeKAE Gallery:
Thom Wheeler creates wall pieces that command attention, hand-crafted metal sculpture that fit many descriptions--classic, comic, sophisticated and playful. He prefers non-porous metals, and devotes much attention to detail. "Polish and texture, that's the thrill."  He collects stones from all over the world and says he has even used ostrich eggs, and "I've sliced ivory cue balls like pieces of baloney for a certain look."  He calls his pieces "wall jewelry" and works with a variety of tools including diamond-bladed band saws, grinders, sanders, buffers and welders.

Born in Alice, Texas in 1946, he was raised in Liberty County in a semi-rural environment.  He learned to work with his hands from his father, whom he described as "an artist by sensibility."  Wheeler began making found-object sculpture in 1964, but full-time commitment was interrupted by service in the U.S. Medical Corps in Europe from 1969-1971.  However, being in Europe, he spent a lot of time in museums studying Renaissance art, and he combined his commitment to being an artist with metal and carpentry skills he learned in the Service.

In 1975, he graduated from Sam Houston University.  He then had a career in Houston as a sculptor, creating contemporary three-dimensional and wall reliefs for commercial and public spaces such as hotel and bank lobbies.  He says: "The Houston sky was filled with cranes and skyscrapers in progress.  Now, half of those buildings have something of mine inside or out--fountains, doors, sculptures.  Some of the locations in Houston where his commission work can be seen are The Grand Hotel, the Cullen Eye Institute, Heritage Farms, Reed Took Company, Arena Theater, the Orbis Foundation, and Harry's Kenya Restaurant and Bar where there is a mural 8 feet by 42 feet of brass, copper, steel, and cast aluminum elephants.  He is extremely proud of being selected the commission winner of the 1980 March of Dimes "trophy" sculptures to honor Dr. Jonas Salk and Madame Francoise Gilot.

In 1985, Wheeler moved to Taos, New Mexico, built a two-story adobe home and foundry on Kit Carson Road, and began concentrating on smaller pieces with a feeling for the icons, such as gypsy women faces and crosses, of the West and Southwest.  Of this work, he says: "You could call this my interpretation of Indian jewelry."

In New Mexico, like Texas, he has been highly successful and getting much media attention. In April, 1988, he was featured artist in The Santa Fe New Mexican magazine; In June, 1991, he was the cover artist of Pulse magazine, October, 1992, cover artist of Taos Magazine; April 1993, featured artist in New Mexico magazine; and in May 1993, was cover artist in Traditions Southwest.  He also won a major commission for a mural at the new hospital in Taos in 1994, and was voted Maverick Award Designer, April 1996, for the Taos Taking Pictures Festival.

Biography from The Adobe Fine Art:
Thom Wheeler’s career began many years ago in Houston.  In the beginning he worked primarily in stone and wood.   He then came up with an idea of making metal bases to support the pieces.  People liked his style and encouraged him to combine wood with metal to create monumental size sculptures.  The commissions started coming in, and the rest is history.

Early in his career Thom’s primary focus was on doing commissions all over the United States. He worked with designers and architects on large scale projects. His sculpture was used to embellish restaurants, hotels, offices and yachts.  The size of these pieces allowed him more canvas to interpret the feeling his client wanted to convey.  He still enjoys that area of creativity. Recently he has completed two donor walls for hospitals in Taos and Fort Worth.

Twenty years ago Thom left the big city for Taos. Since arriving here his style has taken a noticeable turn.  Gone are the themes of the oil and gas industry, and welcomed are works with a more southwestern flair.  He creates aluminum, bronze and copper wall sculptures embellished with a variety of semi-precious stones, found rocks or caste glass that resemble giant pieces of jewelry.  Thom doesn’t ever get bored with projects he is working on.  Every six months he likes to come up with new designs or themes and present them in the gallery in a cohesive group. New ideas are sparked from chance meetings, good books or a walk in the local cemetery.  After a recent trip to South Beach he came up with the “Faces in the Crowd” series, an art deco inspired grouping, which has once again led him in a new direction.

One of Thom’s newest fascinations has developed after receiving a commission for a set of patina copper doors.  These massive doors depicted a scene from the client’s home of the Sister Peaks in Oregon.  In order to portray the scale a combination of 20 different colors of patinas were used.  Now Thom has a series of smaller copper pieces, mostly abstract, using a combination of painted and patina copper that can hang either inside or outside a home.

Also new is the addition of sand-caste metal. Thom completed his foundry in 2003 and has rapidly developed his own style of casting. He now incorporates these dimensional pieces into many areas of his work.

Thom has gained much recognition for his religious themed art. His knowledge and fascination with history and a variety of religions have taken him in various directions. He enjoys mixing Southwest motifs or Native American beliefs with those of other religions to cast a more modern approach on how we view religion in our lives. A Celtic cross can have a Zuni bear embedded in the middle, or a butterfly might flutter onto a Star of David. Anything is possible.

Thom is an artist who whole-heartedly enjoys his work.

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