Like her younger sister Catherine, Eleanor McAdoo Wiley painted in an Impressionist manner, favoring a pastel palette to create still lifes, portraiture, flower studies, and depictions of historic homes. While Catherine Wiley was the better-known, more influential artist of the two sisters, Eleanor made a lasting mark of her own on Knoxville’s cultural landscape through her work as a community leader, arts advocate, and portraitist.

The Wiley family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, around 1880. Eleanor studied at the University of Tennessee and at the Stevens Summer School of Painting, an art colony established by modernist painter Will Henry Stevens that operated in Gatlinburg from the early 1930s through at least 1939. She was an active member of the Nicholson Art League and, in 1934, she founded the Knoxville Art Center, which later merged with the Dulin Gallery of Art and is known today as the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Eleanor Wiley was a popular portraitist who was frequently commissioned to depict prominent state citizens. In 1934, she participated in the Public Works of Art project, a government-funded art program sponsored by the WPA. As part of this effort, she painted a series of portraits on porcelain for the Knox County Public Library featuring notable men in Tennessee history, including presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson. In honor of the state’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1946, Wiley produced portraits of two distinguished military leaders from Tennessee: the late Samuel P. Carter, who led a group of Union loyalists in East Tennessee during the Civil War, and Admiral Charles St. John Butler. Wiley was also commissioned by the University of Tennessee in 1951 to record the likeness of Dr. Philander Priestly Claxton, who established and directed the school’s Department of Education from 1902 to 1911, before serving as the United States Commissioner of Education. Eleanor Wiley’s work is held in the collections of the Tennessee State Museum, the Morris Museum of Art, the Museum of East Tennessee History, and the Knoxville Museum of Art.