By Debbie Hall
It would be natural to tell Karen Wheeler’s story and art career at the beginning of her life. However, her real epiphany began in 2016 when she discovered her true passion in creating art even though she has been an artist for most of her life.
To detail Wheeler’s timeline; she was born with a form of muscular dystrophy known as spinal muscular atrophy 1. Since Wheeler could not play like other children, her mother gave her paper and pencils and told her to draw. She would be mainstreamed into high school, encouraged to attend college to study art and ultimately obtained her master’s degree with a 4.0 grade average.
Wheeler painted in watercolors with great success and accolades. She served on the board of directors of VSA Arts California; a nonprofit organization dedicated to integrating mentally and physically challenged adults and children into society through the arts. Wheeler sold her work to collectors all over the world and celebrities including Julian Lennon, Phil Collins, Shadoe Stevens, Justin Hayward, [late] Joan Rivers, Damon Wayans and Steven Seagal.
But when David, the man who took care of Wheeler for 30 years, passed away in 2013, time stopped for her. “I quit painting for three years. I lost all interest and I was no longer inspired,” she explained. Wheeler became a recluse, her health deteriorated and lost many of her friends. “I felt my life ended when he was gone.”
Since most of her subjects revolved around animals, her brother tried to commission her to paint a portrait of his dog in 2013 and even agreed to pay her. Wheeler attempted to paint this one project but finally gave up.
But art kept calling her name so Wheeler literally forced herself to start the Spirit of Art group. “I wanted to be around fellow creative people. It is a small group but I needed something to get me out of the house.”
Time passed and in November 2016, the group was exhibiting never-before-seen artwork with Wheeler’s brother performing. She wanted to surprise him with a painting of his dog. However, she had suffered a mini stroke earlier in the year. Still Wheeler was determined to try.
“I experienced joy again as I started. It took me four paintings, but I completed it,” she explained.
She discovered that she hadn’t lost her skill even with the numbness in her fingers and unable to hold the brush very well. But thanks to her friend, who developed a device for her, Wheeler has created four more pieces in less than a year’s time.
“This is the first time that I really valued my art,” she stated. “Before I painted because I knew I could do it but I realized that my heart was not really in it. But now looming in my life is the possibility I can’t paint anymore. I am willing and ready to keep doing what I know best. This is the one thing I don’t need help,” she stated.
Spirit of Art continues to thrive and exhibit as Wheeler expresses joy and inspiration with beautiful art pieces. For more information, visit karenwheeler.com.