Archetypes: Freida L. Wheaton
An interview with Freida Wheaton, a retired attorney, who has made an indelible contribution to St. Louis, particularly through fine art. She’s a member and secretary of the Saint Louis Art Museum Board of Commissioners, a member of Lambert Airport’s Art Advisory Committee—a mayoral appointment—and a former board member and current volunteer with St. Louis Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts. Wheaton chairs the archive committee and is a past president for the Mound City Bar Association, is a charter member and a past president of the Coalition of 100 Black Women and recently founded the Alliance of Black Art Galleries. Her vast personal art collection is nationally recognized, featuring local and international artists such as Wilfredo Lam, John Biggers and Philip Hampton. Wheaton also operates Salon 53, a private art gallery in her home, which is currently showing “2-5-Oh! Surprise, Sadness and Struggle in the Mound City,” celebrating St. Louis’ 250-year anniversary. Freida L. Wheaton
What is your current frame of mind? Excited.
When and where are you happiest? Hosting a large group of people in my home—friends and strangers alike.
What is your favorite smell? Gardenia.
What is one word that describes you? Organized.
What did you eat for breakfast today? A green salad.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Yes.
What is your most marked characteristic? I’m an avid collector, mostly of frogs, and Madonna and Child images.
What is your greatest weakness? A little procrastination.
What trait do you most admire in others? Honoring commitments.
What is your most treasured possession? A collection of letters from my brother during the time he was in Vietnam.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would have a beautiful singing voice.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Establishing my own art gallery, Salon 53, and using it as a forum to advocate for the interests of artists and to promote inclusion of art in the home.
Which living person do you most admire? Her Excellency Dr. Erieka Bennett.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? Mary McLeod Bethune, educator, civil rights leader, organizational woman and public servant.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, who or what would it would be? Myself. What is your greatest extravagance? Traveling.
What is your greatest fear? Losing my voice.
On what occasion do you lie? When it’s beneficial to others without being unethical.
Who are your favorite writers? Frank Yerby, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and Derrick Bell.
Which artists do you most admire? Jacob Lawrence, Wilfredo Lam and Frida Kahlo.
What is your favorite hobby? Going to flea markets and antique malls.
Where would you like to live? I’m good in St. Louis, but frankly, I’d like to live everywhere.
Who are your heroes in real life? My sister Claudia Linzey and Emily Pulitzer.
If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be? Frida Kahlo.
What’s something interesting that you just learned? The cotton industry in St. Louis was profound even though cotton was not grown here. There was a lot of local industry associated with it, and it made a lot of money for St. Louis.
What are you most looking forward to? A successful year of my exhibition, “2-5-Oh!”
What is one thing you wish would happen? That non-blacks would no longer be afraid of blacks.
What is something you still want to learn? How to play this piano I’ve had for over 25 years.
What is one thing you want to do before you die? Write my autobiography. I’d like to tell my own story.
If you could say something to your younger self, what would it be? Learn languages.
Photo credit: Wesley Law