Artist Name

birth11/30/1897 in Chicago, IllinoisPicture of Williams
educationSchool of the Art Institute of Chicago,
Phillips Exeter Academy, Exter NH,
Yale University (1916-1919),
Harvard University (1919-1922),
Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris

Wheeler Williams was born on November 30, 1897 in Chicago, Illinois. He studied sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He attended Yale where he graduated Magna cum Laude in 1919 after having served in the U.S. Balloon Corps during World War I. He received a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard in 1922. Like most of his peers, Williams went to Paris to gain exposure to European sculpture and life. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris under Jules Coutan and only returned to the United States in 1928.

He specialized in the carving of allegorical reliefs. During the 1930s, he completed works in this genre for the Interstate Commerce Building, Washington, D.C., and for the Post Offices on Canal Street, New York, and in Bay Shore, Long Island. The last two commissions were done under the auspices of the Federal Works Agency.

Like many artists at the time, Williams was a political activist. Unlike many, he was a political conservative. He strongly supported the House Un-American Activities Committee's search for communists in the arts and protested the Congressional censure of Joseph McCarthy. Williams was also called to serve on the jury of the famous Alger Hiss treason trial.

Beyond public projects, Williams also created the monument Settling of the Seaboard, done in 1941 for Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, and the two large allegorical figures representing the odd pair of Venus and Manhattan executed in the early 1950s for the facade of the Parke-Bernet Galleries on Madison Avenue in New York. He created a number of fountain figures, for example, The Wave of Life Fountain for the Prudential Building in Houston, Texas, and the Rhthym of the Waves Fountain for the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club in Detroit. The model for the former work was shown at the National Academy in 1960 (National Academy cat. no. 4). His eight small, lead fountain sculptures of the gods as children - Neptune, Hercules, and Venus, for example - were exhibited at the Arden Gallery in New York in 1940. Four of these are now at Brookgreen Gardens. Evidence of Williams's competence as an animalier is seen in a number of his bronze creatures which are at Brookgreen as well. Williams became an active exhibitor at the National Academy beginning in 1938 and won the Ellin Speyer Memorial Prize here for his Black Panthers in 1940 (National Academy cat. no. 310).

His medals include the Stephen Potter Memorial Medal (Phillips Exeter), Chester Plimpton (Yale), American Spirit Honor (U.S. Army), Insignia (Citizens Committee for Army and Navy), Colin Kelly, John Flanagan (Century Association), and 50th Anniversary (Medallic Art Company Competition, 1950).

He served as president of the National Sculpture Society and was a founder and president of the American Artist Professional League. He was active in the armed forces during both world wars.

Sourced mainly from Wikipedia.

You can click on the medals to see the reverse.

  • Phillips Exeter Academy
    Stephen Potter Memorial Medal
    ca. 1920
    by Wheeler Williams (attr.)
    Bronze with dark patina

    The obverse bears bust of youthful Potter (r.) in uniform. Around, STEPHEN POTTER MEMORIAL MEDAL.

    The reverse bears nude, winged female holding wreath and palm frond. To left and right of figure, PHILLIPS / EXETER / ACADEMY / TRACK / VIRTVTE - VIRIBVS QVE.

    The medal is edge marked GORHAM CO.

    Stephen Potter (1896-1918) was an Exeter alumnus who had the distinction of being the first Navy aviator to shoot down a German seaplane. After graduating from Exeter he went on to Yale where he joined the second Yale unit to enter service in 1917. The World War II destroyer USS Stephen Potter was named in his honor.

    While not signed, the medal is atributed to Wheeler Williams. It measures 76mm (3") in diameter and was manufactured by the Gorham Company of Providence, Rhode Island. The mintage is not reported.

  • Peace on Earth 1951
    by Wheeler Williams
    Golden bronze with tan patina

    This medal was chosen as the 44th issue of the prestigious Society of Medalists series in 1939. The obverse bears the Madonna with child. The reverse bears a lamb resting in a field. Above, PEACE ON EARTH.

    The reported production quantity of this medal is 750 pieces in bronze.

    73.0mm (2.87in)
    Golden bronze with tan patina
  • Prudential Insurance / Wave of Life1952

    The obverse bears a reclining nude couple on a dais above waves with a child between them. Around, ARKANSAS - KANSAS - LOUISIANA - MISSISSIPPI - MISSOURI / OKLAHOMA / TEXAS; below, 1952; signed WW. The reverse bears an image of the Prudential Building in Houston. Around, THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY - OF AMERICA; below, SOUTHWESTERN HOME OFFICE.

    Wheeler Williams had created a sculpture called Wave of Life for a fountain in front of the newly erected Prudential Building on 1100 Holcombe Blvd. in Houston. Prudential commissioned him to also create a medal celebrating the opening of their new regional headquarters. The building was taken over by the University of Texas in 1975 and demolished in 2012.

  • International Commerce Building Panel Detail

    Pediment of Interstate Commerce Commission Building (1935)

    Wheeler Williams created this sculpture for the pediment of the Interstate Commerce Building in Washington, D.C. in 1935. This picture shows a beautiful detail of the entire pediment. Complete views are available here. Williams also created the sculpture for the building's tympanum.

    A larger version of the image can be found here.

  • Bay Shore Post Office Relief

    Speed (1936)

    In addition to its architectural importance, the downtown post office in Bay Shore, New York contains a relief sculpture entitled Speed by Wheeler Williams that was commissioned by the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture in 1936. This was one of the New Deal art programs during the 1930's which created murals and other public art for public buildings. Williams emphasizes the speed of communication by mail with his sculpted image of Mercury, the messenger and god of commerce and travel. The Penataquit Station Post Office was entered in the National Register of Historic Places on November 17, 1988.

    Used with permission from Living New Deal . The original image can be found here. The image is copyrighted by the owner © All Rights Reserved.

  • Canal Street Post Office Relief

    Indian Bowman (1938)

    The federal Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts funded a terra-cotta relief by Wheeler Williams entitled "Indian Bowman" to be installed in the newly constructed Canal Street post office.

    Used with permission from Living New Deal . The original image can be found here. The image is copyrighted by the owner © All Rights Reserved.

  • Wave of Life

    Wave of Life (1952)

    Wheeler Williams created this sculpture for the Prudential S.W. regional office building in Houston, Texas. The building was constructed in 1952 under architect Kenneth Franzheim. Wave of Life was the centerpiece of a fountain in front of the building. The University of Texas took over the building in 1975 and tore it down in 2012 to make way for a new building. The sculpture remains in front of the building.

    Wheeler also created a commemorative medal for the Prudential Insurance Company that carried a bas-relief representation of the sculpture on its obverse.

    A larger version of the image can be found on

  • Muse of the Missouri

    Muse of the Missouri (1960)

    Wheeler Williams created this sculpture for a fountain in the heart of downtown Kansas City. The figure represents a goddess bestowing her interest and guidance on the Missouri River. Williams had originally intended to use fish native to the river spilling from the net. However, he found catfish too ugly and carp unworkable. The nine fish netted by the muse are a hybrid using a carp body and bluefish head. There are 200 spouts of water making up the total fountain display. The metal fish net created a problem for the artist and a special machine had to be created to weave it. It was conserved extensively in 2005.

    A larger version of the image can be found here.

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Books & Articles

American Art Medals, 1909-1995 by David Thomason Alexander
David T. Alexander's book can be purchased at the above link. Highly recommended for anyone interested in SOM. I am deeply indebted to him for all the information I used to document the SOM medals on this site.

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