As I got to know Wheeler over the years and was invited to his loft in Hell's Kitchen for dinner (he's an amazing cook), I was always drawn to his colorful and beautiful, obsessive collections Many of his collections were of ordinary found objects that, when put together, often told hilarious, poignant, lush, beautiful stories. From his knitted, toilet paper covers in the shapes of poodles and carved African dolls to plastic Jesuses and absurdly labeled products from around the globe, he surrounds himself with a super-unique and creative view of the world.
Here, photographer The Selby gives us a recent peek at Wheeler's Garment district loft and Wheeler shares his thoughts on his home, his neighborhood and the stuff that he surrounds himself with. The rest of the Selby's series on Wheeler will appear on his website, theselby.com,in the coming weeks.
Ford, describe what you do.
I am a retired shop owner and am now a production designer. My job is all the visual elements of a movie. My responsibility it to interpret the characters and mood of the film through the sets and locations. Hopefully I am able to add depth to the experience of the viewer. It could be a palace, an office, some garbage left on the street, wallpaper, signage or anything at all that the camera can see. Sometimes it's OK for the design to draw attention to itself, but, to add to the film's story, it shouldn't usually make itself known to the consciousness of the viewer. I work with a rather large team and oversee a number of departments like construction, paint, art direction, set decoration, props, graphics, clearance and placement and of, course, budget. I'm trying to get it all to work for the director and hopefully me too.
Tell me about your loft and the neighborhood it's in.
I used to live in a duplex loft with a roof on the corner of Lispenard and West Broadway and when they raised the rent to $400 a month. I was outraged and told them I wouldn't pay it even if I could afford it. At that time, many SoHo types were moving to that Garment District to get away from what was then only a seed of the horror that has become the development of downtown. When I moved into my new loft in the west 30s, it was all garment racks in the daytime and transvestite hookers at night. When they built the Jacob Javits Convention Center, they cleaned up all those hookers. Then when they cleaned up 42nd street, for some reason all the crack addicts and dealers made my street their home. That lasted about a year and I have no idea what cleared it up. I think it was the Guardian Angles or something. Lately all the parking lots have become hi-rise apartment buildings and I am waiting for Whole Foods to open up so at least I will get some advantage out of the disaster.
How would you describe the style of your home?
My style is a big mess that I try to keep in order. I like things that I like and things that are sentimental or remind me of something or someone. When you have a lot of stuff sitting around all over the place, you have to be careful or none of it looks good. You end up with piles of stuff that's too much of a crazy, antisocial-out-of-your-mind style. I like that look too, but still hold on to a bit of sanity that requires my own type of order which is more conventional (though a bit excessive). The stuff I collect may seem superficial to others but not to me. It is a mix.
Who has influenced your style?
Who knows what ones influences are. Aren't we all supposed to be formed in infancy when we have no ability to control or understand the input of others? I am influenced by what I find beautiful, tender, nostalgic and weird. Also memories and loss. On the other hand, it could be something that represents a comment on society and is far from beautiful or at least a classical kind of beauty. I think that it's about the same for everyone, only excessive for me. I fight it and want to give each item it's place without undo clutter but I fail and add something else.I try restraint and fail again. Collecting is is kind of like drugs for some people -- it can be hard to determine when it is just too much.
Tell me about your most insane collections.
I have an eyelash collection that I found in the trash outside an eyelash company when I worked for Bill King. I started my crocheted poodle bottle cover collection in Philadelphia. People bought junk by the box and threw out what they didn't want. I got the tossed Poodle for a friend but he didn't even want it so I just added to it and made it into a statement all it's own. I have plenty of collections. I guess you might say I have a collection of collections.