By Diana Rawls, Des Moines Health Center Activities Assistant
The Des Moines Health & Rehabilitation Center welcomes an acclaimed Fremont artist and mask-maker.
Roger Robert Wheeler is a Fremont artist who is best known for his paintings and mask sculptures. His artwork has been seen in international exhibitions, Northwest galleries and festival events for the last 40 years.
He was born in February of 1947 in Portland, Oregon, to Bud and Lee Wheeler. Roger knew from a young age he would be an artist. His artistic dreams and aspirations started as early as kindergarten where his teacher, Mrs. Briggs, would always have his art posted on the wall.
“I remember when I was six years old, I would wear my dad’s old dress shirts and line up all the paint I could find on an easel and just paint for hours,” Roger recounted.
When Roger was in high school, he would purchase an all day bus fare and would visit as many galleries and art museums as he could in one day. He would begin at 10:00 a.m., taking mental notes on which works of art spoke to him and why. In this way, Roger was able to learn about art first-hand, and his observations helped him to develop his own style.
When he graduated high school, Roger worked at a temp agency where the variety of jobs ranged from stuffing envelopes to shifting boxes. He continued working on his art. Eventually, he began working in a gallery and living off of the proceeds from his own artwork.
In his body of work to-date, many of Roger’s paintings are created with ink and acrylic and seek to combine natural science with post-modern painting. They’ve been said to pay homage to astronomy, microbiology and the world of minerals.
Before receiving care at Wesley Homes Des Moines Health and Rehabilitation Center, Roger had been a resident of the Toshiro-Kaplan Artist Lofts — a live-work complex where painters, photographers, sculptors, architects, dancers and musicians live and practice their craft.
Before this and throughout most of his career, Roger lived in Fremont from 1956 to 2004 and was a major component in revitalizing the area. In the 1940s, the Fremont community and its local commerce had fallen into a slow decline until it was revived by a diverse group of creative individuals who aspired to transform their home into a more vibrant and thriving community. Roger is a founding member of the Fremont Arts Council, which is responsible for the many enriching public arts and activities that have cultivated the area for the last 30+ years. Among many projects, the council is best known for the Fremont Solstice Parade. It was this celebratory event that inspired Roger to pursue mask making.
The emphasis of Roger’s art has been on sculpture since 1991. Inspired by African tribal masks and artists such as Francis Bacon, Roger uses paper mache, acrylic and found objects to create unusual, strikingly beautiful masks. Aside from the solstice parade, he has designed masks for theater, ballet and gallery exhibits.
Roger’s art is not restricted to visual art. He is also a drummer, singer and harmonica aficionado. When he was younger, he played for the Portage Bay Big Band and Philharmonic. When he was 30, he started his own band named the T-Bone Fishers.
Though he’s worked primarily in painting and mask-making, Roger is a multi-talented artist who has published articles for Seattle Times and Art Access magazine, conducted walking tours of Fremont’s public art and, as perhaps one of his most widely recognized contributions to Fremont, also helped to create the Fremont Troll.
More of Roger’s work can be seen on his website, maskmadness.com