Cora Wheeler has a deeply creative soul. When she was young, her parents built a working Black Angus cattle ranch in Durango. They would spend weekends working the land, where she cultivated an appreciation for creating with her own two hands and for Western and Native American cultures.
Flash forward to 2010, when Cora wanted a specific painting for her home. Instead of gallery hopping, she took another approach. “I wanted a Native American headdress painting—a big one,” she says. “So, I made one.” She set up a studio in her then Wash Park home and went to work. She used mixed media and textural elements and hung it in her home. The piece grabbed friends’ attention and before long, requests for paintings started rolling in. It was the beginning of a creative career path—very different from the one she was on at the time.
Cora worked in her father’s dental practice. She practically grew up in his offices, and loved being with her father so much that she sought a career as a dental hygienist. After several years working side-by-side with him, her father developed early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and sold the practice in 2011. After he passed away in 2014, Cora realized that without him there, her passion for dentistry wasn’t as strong. She decided to start a new journey and immersed herself in artistic endeavors.
A New Path Forward
She turned her side hustle into a creative career, working as a freelance floral designer and an artist as the painting commissions continued to come in. While her paintings generally feature headdresses, florals, buffalo, Aspen trees or maps, she’s open to anything as long as it follows her signature process. Cora meets with clients via Zoom, and they begin by choosing the subject, deciding on the size and then developing a color palette. Then she does a small mock-up to give the client a feel for the overall look to be sure her vision and the client’s vision are aligned.
Next, she preps the paints and canvas, applying a resin coating to give it a glossy finish. Before each resin coating, Cora adds her signature. Because her maiden name, Sexton, stopped with her father—she was one
of two daughters—Cora changed her middle name to Sexton, and she signs each work of art with C Sexton W, in honor of her dad. After her father died, Cora started commemorating his life by donating a painting each year for the live auction at the Memories in the Making® art auction and gala, a benefit for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Setting Herself Apart
In the early years of painting, through trial and error, Cora perfected her signature process. She began by sculpting the canvas using found objects such as beads and feathers. It didn’t give her the flexibility needed, so she continued to experiment. Once she discovered the perfect medium, she used found items and tools—including dental instruments—and her hands to sculpt just the right dimension and textures. She used the plastic mesh from a bag of clementines to create the texture of snakeskin on the canvas for one piece.
“We grow up hearing at museums and in homes ‘don’t touch the art,’” she says. “My pieces are different in the fact they are meant to be viewed and touched due to the resin and three-dimensional aspects. I love creating an experience for the viewer that is visual and tactile.”
Today, Cora works from her studio in her Cherry Hills Village home. Word-of-mouth advertising keeps her busy with a couple of commissioned paintings each month, and she paints for herself and her online gallery of retail artwork. “Ultimately, I am just really thankful people enjoy my art,” she says, “and that I have the opportunity to continue creating.”
C Sexton W Studio, csextonwstudio.com