Born in North Carolina, Jim Wheeler is the son of a professional forester and describes himself as an ‘amateur botanist’, having studied both art and biology at university. His continued interest in plants and how plant communities evolve still informs his sculptural practice today.
Jim Wheeler studied art under Bert Carpenter and sculptor Peter Agostini earning a 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 Art Works sculpture foundry.
A member of Medallic 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 XXX 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, with six solo shows and many group exhibitions both here and overseas. His work is held in The British Museum, London; The Weatherspoon Art Museum, USA; The Auckland Museum; The James Wallace Trust and Zealandia, Mahurangi and he has been included in major New Zealand sculpture exhibitions including Shapeshifter, The New Dowse in 2008, Sculpture in the Gardens, Auckland Botanic Gardens 2007-8; Brick Bay Sculpture Park, Matakana 2007-8; Sculpture Onshore 2005 & 2007; Sculpture on the Gulf 2005 and Growth Industry at Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens 2005.