Wiegand and Williams: Economy holds the fates of sculptor and playwright
By: Marcia Guckes
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tennessee Williams and local sculptor Don Wiegand may not seem to have much in common. But right now, the economy is controlling both their fates.
On Jan. 20 Wiegand revealed his sculpture of Williams and his hopes to have the work displayed in heroic proportions at several possible sites. But the Chesterfield studio where Wiegand works is under the financial gun of the nation’s mortgage battles, and the economy is making art patrons harder to find.
Bremen Bank now holds the mortgage on the studio and acres at One Wiegand Drive, just off Baxter Road in the Chesterfield Valley.
Wiegand survived a Dec. 5 eviction deadline after the bank agreed to continue its negotiations with Wiegand’s foundation (wiegandfoundation.org). Those talks are continuing with no definite deadline, according to Wiegand.
“My dream is to get the studio in the foundation,” Wiegand said.
Representatives of the foundation are working with the bankers to arrange enough time for the foundation to raise funds to purchase the site.
Wiegand said he also hopes to partner with the city of Chesterfield so that it would help maintain the acreage as a park.
“I built it as a park for everybody,” Wiegand said.
Building art for everybody, like the Williams sculpture, has been one of the benchmarks of Wiegand’s career. The impetus for his most recent sculpture came from several people close to Williams including the monsignor who officiated at Williams’ funeral; his brother, Dakin Williams; and Dakin’s daughter Fran.
Fran was at the unveiling ceremony and talked about Williams’ years in Missouri. His family moved to St. Louis from Mississippi when he was about 7 years old.
“He was not happy moving to the city from a place where people doted on him,” Fran said.
She noted that in rural Columbus, Miss., the Williams family had lived in the midst of a big extended family that included Williams’ grandfather, a minister.
According to Fran, things were quite different for Tennessee’s family in St. Louis. She said Williams hated the pollution of the city – the nation’s fourth largest in 1918 – and that the city’s residents were not very welcoming to his family.
“They were made fun of because of their Southern accents. I can see why Tennessee left here and did not want to ever come back,” Fran said.
But now Tennessee’s niece is one of the people who would like to bring the playwright back to St. Louis in the form of Wiegand’s sculpture. She said the inspiration for the image came from a book.
“The book opened to this page and we all pointed and knew this was the picture that should represent Tennessee,” his niece said.
That picture showed the playwright gazing out a window. Wiegand hopes to see his version of that image blown up to a size of 8-feet tall or more and set in a display that would have Williams gazing at the Jewel Box in Forest Park, or the theaters on Broadway in New York City, or the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans.
Wiegand said organizations from all of those locations had shown interest until two years ago. That’s when the nation’s economic problems came in to dash those hopes.
The economy is also be one of the reasons Wiegand’s studio is in trouble. He said he has often had to borrow money against the property to pay for the metals needed to make the bronze medals and large stainless steel sculptures for which he is most famous.
The Chesterfield artist is known internationally for works of art that honor the volunteer efforts of individuals and organizations. One such piece is the Spirit of (Bob) Hope award, which is presented annually to those who contribute an extraordinary amount of time, talent or resources to significantly enhance the quality of life of military service members around the world.
Now Wiegand and his foundation are fighting to rally those forces and hoping the battle for the local historic landmark will end in victory soon.