We are proud to announce the inaugural recipients of The Mary C. Wheeler Medal of Arts! This new alumni award honors those individuals who, either through their participation, support, or interest, have made exceptional contributions to the performing or visual arts at Wheeler and beyond. The medal also honors Wheeler’s founder, Mary Colman Wheeler, an artist, educator, and activist who believed that an educational experience grounded in students’ curiosity and passions could lead those students to make the world a better place. This year’s recipients include beloved art teacher Bobbie Berking-Dalzell ’73, award-winning mixed media artist Nancy Bowen ’73, internationally-renowned composer Nico Muhly ’99, and, posthumously, accomplished artist, writer, actress, fashion designer, and entrepreneur Gloria Vanderbilt ’42.
Bobbie Berking-Dalzell ’73 has been teaching art to Lower School students at Wheeler for 31 years. “You inspire the artist in our youngest students and teach them that everyone has artistic abilities that just need to be fostered,” the award committee said in its letter to Ms. Berking-Dalzell to inform her of her selection. “What a gift you are to them, to your Lower School and Art Department colleagues, and to our entire Wheeler community.” In addition to being an educator at Wheeler, Ms. Berking-Dalzell is also a proud alumna, having served on the Alumni Board. She holds a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and has also taught at the Jemicy School and Spurwink School, and she has led “Methods and Materials” workshops to Brown graduate students getting their degrees in Elementary Education.
Nancy Bowen ’73 is a mixed media artist known for her eclectic mixtures of imagery and materials in both two and three dimensions. She has had over a dozen solo exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe and won awards from the Anonymous was a Woman Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Jentel Foundation, the European Ceramic Work Center, the Brown Foundation Fellowship at the Dora Maar House, and the European Ceramic Workcentre, among others. She attended Stanford University, and received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from Hunter College. She has taught at Bard College, Sarah Lawrence College, and Columbia University, and is currently a professor of sculpture at Purchase College, SUNY. She maintains a studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Nico Muhly ’99 is an American composer who writes orchestral music, works for stage, chamber music, and sacred music. He’s received commissions from The Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Tallis Scholars, King’s College, St John’s College, Cambridge, Wigmore Hall, and The Philadelphia Orchestra, among others. He is an avid collaborator, having worked with choreographers Benjamin Millepied at the Paris Opera Ballet, Bobbi Jene Smith at the Juilliard School, and Justin Peck and Kyle Abraham at the New York City Ballet, as well as artists Sufjan Stevens, The National, Teitur, Anohni, James Blake, and Paul Simon, and he has written film scores for “The Reader,” “Kill Your Darlings,” and the BBC adaptation of “Howards End.” He is part of the artist-run record label Bedroom Community, which released his first two albums, “Speaks Volumes” (2006) and “Mothertongue” (2008). Muhly is a former Fox Family Speaker at Wheeler and frequent collaborator with the school’s Performing Arts Department, having composed pieces for Wheeler students over the years.
Over the course of her 95 years, Gloria Vanderbilt ’42 pursued her passions and powers as an artist, writer, poet, actress, designer, and entrepreneur. Her first art exhibit was in 1948, and she continued to paint until her death in 2019. She grew her Gloria Vanderbilt designer-jean company to a $100M-a-year business and published over a dozen books. Throughout her lifetime, Vanderbilt was never far from Wheeler. She partnered with the school in 1985 to raise money for renovations of the theater in Wheeler Memorial Hall, and in gifting a copy of her memoir, “The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss,” a collaboration with her son, Anderson Cooper, she inscribed a personal note to the school community, “in memory of (my) happiest days at Wheeler.” Anderson Cooper will accept the Mary C. Wheeler Medal of Arts, via video, on his late mother’s behalf.
Vanderbilt, Muhly, Bowen, and Berking-Dalzell will be honored at the Alumni Awards Ceremony along with our Founder’s Award and Athletics Hall of Fame honorees on Saturday, Oct. 14 during Wheeler’s Homecoming and Reunion Weekend. Visit Wheeler’s alumni community website, The Wheel, for more information and to register for this event.