In his résumés and various writings, Wheeler typically reinvented himself as a first-generation American born in New Salem, Pennsylvania. In fact, he was born as Stephen Brosnatch on April 3, 1912, in a village in Slovakia and adopted the Americanized name of Steve Wheeler as a translation of his mother’s family name in 1939.
In this respect, of course, he was very much a man of his time. Like a number of his contemporaries on the New York art scene-Arshile Gorky, John Graham and, for that matter, Mark Rothko-taking a new name was for Steve Wheeler but a first crucial step toward acquiring a new artistic identity. In this connection, moreover, it is hardly surprising to learn that as a prelude to that decisive moment in his career, Wheeler-or rather, Stephen Brosnatch-destroyed most of the work he had produced during what he afterwards dismissed as his years of apprenticeship to art history, thereby clearing the way for his reincarnation as Steve Wheeler.