Hughlette "Tex" Wheeler (1900-1955) was an American artist and sculptor of the second quarter of the 20th century, known for his Western and equestrian themes.
Although he was nicknamed Tex, he was not from and never lived in Texas. He was actually from central Florida, the child of a ranch overseer. A native of Christmas (where he also died), he displayed his artistic talent to his family and neighbours as a youngster and would probably have been another nameless folk artist had it not been for relatives who paid to send him to the (as it was then called) Cleveland School of the Arts. His fellow students, probably not used to having a Florida cracker in their midst, dubbed him Tex because, well, if he'd been a ranch hand, and wore cowboy boots and a ten-gallon hat, he obviously had to be from Texas. His unusual first name was given him after the surname of the doctor who delivered him.
His fascination, being from cattle country, was with horses and the men who rode them in the line of work. After furthering his studies on a scholarship in Paris (that's Paris, France, not Paris, Texas), where he had a number of Western-themed pieces cast, and briefly working in Cleveland again, he moved west, first to Arizona and then to southern California. His best known work dates from his time in California in the 1930s.
Pretty much everything he created had something to do with horses, running the whole range from pack animals on the trail to polo players. He also worked on commission on portraits and sculptures of horses and their owners. He was an excellent natural sculptor and in some pieces captured the moment as well as a photographer would. I think my favourite has to be the one titled Man Scent, of a horse bending to sniff a cowboy hat on the ground.
His two most famous pieces are the life-size statue of legendary racehorse Seabiscuit (who, coincidentally, also began his career in Florida) and that of his jockey George Woolf at the Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, and the statue of Will Rogers at the Will Rogers State Park, also in California. He was not the most prolific artist but did create an appreciable number of smaller objects, and samples of his art remain popular with equestrian enthusiasts, particularly in Florida and California.
As a master of the bronze, World War II and the consequent shortage of metal to work with significantly reduced his output during the 1940s and, eventually,
ill health made him return to his native town in Florida, where he died at age 54. Some works that he left behind in plaster were cast posthumously.