About the artist:
He was born in 1940 to a prominent Connecticut family and his father died when Wheeler was a sophomore at Yale University. As vice-president of his dad’s sewing machine production company, the 20-year-old Wheeler caught a glimpse of business life and decided to drop out and instead attend a San Francisco art institute. That was the beginning of his journey west to Sonoma County. In the wake of the “summer of love” and the in the midst of the back-to-the-land movement, Wheeler met and befriended Lou Gottlieb, the former San Francisco newsman and the Limeliters performer who’d founded Morning Star Ranch on 30 acres off Graton Road in 1966. Gottlieb’s hippie commune made the cover of Time magazine in 1967, which attracted unwanted attention to their alternative lifestyle. After Morning Star was bulldozed by the county, a move was made to Wheeler’s 320-acre property off Coleman Valley Road about eight miles away that he had purchased in 1962. There, he had spent his time planting trees, maintaining the land and building structures, all in the absence of electricity. By 1968 there were approximately 50 people living on the Wheeler’s property and in 1969 law enforcement made efforts to shut down the commune. In 1973 everyone was ordered off the property and around 70 out-of-compliance structures were destroyed. Meanwhile, Wheeler became a staple in the west county art scene as a painter and he was best known as one of the “Sonoma Four” group of open air painters. He taught art classes at the Occidental Center for the Arts and became an advocate for open spaces in Sonoma County. Later in life, Wheeler battled Parkinson’s disease and other health challenges. Friends said that he died in a room surrounded by candles, listening to the opera Don Giovanni and with many of Wheeler’s “plein air” paintings in his view.