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Candace Wheeler (1827–1923)

Portrait of Candace Wheeler in her book Yesterdays in a Busy Life, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1918.
Portrait of Candace Wheeler in her book Yesterdays in a Busy Life, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1918.

Candace Wheeler was America's first important woman textile and interior designer.

At the age of 49, Wheeler, wife, mother, and amateur flower painter, visited the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, where she saw an exhibition of embroideries made at London's Royal School of Art Needlework, which had been formed to teach women to create needleworks of professional quality, thereby providing them with a means of support. Inspired by the exhibit and by the Royal School's mission, Wheeler founded the Society of Decorative Art in New York in 1877, an organization devoted to helping American women artists and artisans gain training in the applied arts, and helped to start related societies in Chicago, St. Louis, Hartford, Detroit, Troy, New York and Charleston, South Carolina. In 1878, Wheeler helped launch the New York Exchange for Women's Work, where women could sell any product that they could manufacture at home, including baked goods and household linens.

Wheeler also found success as a professional textile artist, and in 1879, with the designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, she co-founded the interior-decorating firm of Tiffany & Wheeler, serving as the partner specializing in textiles. This firm, which later became the Louis C. Tiffany & Company, Associated Artists, decorated some of New York City's most significant houses and public buildings. These include the Veterans' Room of the Seventh Regiment Armory, the Madison Square Theatre, the Union League Club, the George Kemp house, and the drawing room of the Cornelius Vanderbilt II house. The firm also designed the interior of Mark Twain's house in Hartford, Connecticut.

Wheeler left the partnership with Tiffany in 1883 to form her own textile design firm. During the late 1880s, Wheeler became one of the first women to work professionally in a field dominated by male upholsterers, architects, and cabinetmakers. In 1893, at the age of 66, she was asked to serve as the interior decorator of the Woman's Building at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, and to organize the State of New York's applied arts exhibition there.

A native of the Catskills, Wheeler also founded an artists' colony, Onteora, in the Catskill Mountains in 1887, where she spent much of her later life writing books and articles on decorating and the textile arts, as well as fiction. After she published her last book in 1921, Wheeler died in 1923 at the age of 96.

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