Chesterfield artist Don Wiegand enjoys artistically capturing specific moments, often innermost ones, within the realm of the human spirit. So much so, Don specializes in bronze and stainless tributes designed to last the test of time.
In fact, Don believes artists are recorders of history, recorders of mankind actually. He enjoys invoking humans' endurance and survival tendencies as inspiration.
It's been said Don's artworks have soul, even emitting their own energy fields.
"Everyone has a purpose, a lot of people make a difference, and that's what life is about. Life is a precious gift, whether you're famous or not. The truth is that we're all equal," says Don, who believes God loves all the souls he made.
Alas, how did an artist with an international reputation and fan base get started in Chesterfield, a city in which he has lived since he was 5 years old? He says the camaraderie found in Chesterfield certainly helped. Read on for highlights of Don's life.
The Young Artist
Inside a crib as a toddler, Don says he began to notice shapes. He also started to create and build things from any materials he could get his hands on, such as paper, tape and cardboard. He knows now that art was simply born into his genes.
By the time Don got to grade school, he was sketching—drawing portraits, in particular, with pencils and colors. His fondness for interpreting people had blossomed.
He then began to paint and do as many multi-dimensional models as he could, realizing that abstract and reality are merely forms of perception.
"And I learned at an early age that artists have a certain enchantment. I was proud of my art, but I wanted to share it with others to help people feel better about themselves and who the art was about. It was like having a prized pie, and I wanted to share the pie, so to speak. It was an honor to include others," he explains.
Perhaps a summer special-study program at Chautauqua Institute in New York helped to cement this artist's dream to shape it into a career, as he learned to trust the essence of his own soul and let it go.
Don earned a bachelor's degree in Fine Arts from Washington University's School of Fine Arts in St. Louis. He also completed a Fine Arts Fellowship and Graduate Study program there as well.
He eventually taught art to students as an adjunct instructor at Washington University and Maryville University. He also instructed select interns from Fontbonne College and Webster University. He remains an artist-in-residence at Maryville University.
"It's important, and satisfying, to pass on our knowledge for generations to come," he says.
Don still likes to direct young artists who visit the newly founded Chesterfield Heritage Foundation of Chesterfield at the Chesterfield Mall, which shares space with his current studio there. The museum was supported by the Wiegand Foundation and the Chesterfield Historic and Landmark Preservation Committee.
"One role of art is to preserve history and humanity," he adds.
Much of Don's day-to-day artwork is done privately for people not in societal limelight. He likes making a poignant stand in that private world because his mantra is that "all people are important."
Additionally, some of Don's most well-known subjects/renderings were of Mark Twain, Stan the Man Musial, National Shrine of Mary/Mother of the Church, Charles Lindbergh, Bob Hope, Amelia Earhart, August A. Busch Jr., Pope John Paul II, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Cliff Roberston, Winston Churchill, Dr. Martin Luther King and Pope Francis.
He's also very fond of the piece he did for former U.S. President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara.
"I had the great honor of meeting and casting the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Bush in an intimate moment at their home in Kennebunkport, Maine. I have never met a more down-to-earth and gracious couple, grateful for their bountiful and purposeful life together. Side-by-side in life for 73 years, together again forever," he says.
He reveals that casting anyone's hands is symbolically important and always a "cool moment," due to the immense trust participants place in the artist.
Don is especially enthused about his current project being created for the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Science, slated to be completed this year. He says it will be a bas-release depicting Pope Francis. He also says it will honor those who are doing their part to try to save the planet.
"It will be very international, universal," he says.
Don used his own money to finance the startup of the nonprofit the Wiegand Foundation to memorialize standout people in national defense, science, technology, health and human services. Don and Michael Fagin created the Spirit of Hope bronze awards program to honor military members and others who exhibit the USO spirit of the late comedian Bob Hope. The Metals are presented annually by the Department of Defense in the Pentagon.
He says he established the foundation in 2003, partly at this father's deathbed, to show his father that his teachings about making a noticeable difference in life certainly would be passed on. He says he learned a lot from his dad, who followed his hunch in 1952 by moving from St. Louis to Chesterfield, taking over the local store and renaming it the Smoke House Market— steps that led to businesses still going strong today.
A few years ago, Don was thrust into the financial fight of his life to save his beloved Chesterfield studio from being demolished as part of a floodwall project in Chesterfield Valley. His studio often was provided as space for public art events, so Don hoped that a local college or organization would save the building. But, in 2012, the bank that held his mortgage foreclosed on his property. While he still works to provide funding to others, he says he hasn't given up on getting back his magic studio.
He says he feels his whole life was a part of building up to the foundation, seeking another way to thank people for what they've done to help each other. But there are plenty of people around the world silently thanking Don each time they draw grit, smiles, innovation, courage and originality from this heartfelt artwork.
Don takes time out of his work to inspire young artist visitors to his studio and Chesterfield Heritage Museum at Chesterfield Mall. The kids are sitting in 1960s-era desks from Ascension School.