Soon after graduating college and becoming a professional sculptor Wegner was given his first large commission by the National Geographic Society in 1976. The project required Wegner to create 9 life size figures of primitive man for their new museum exhibit in Washington D.C. Wegner had meetings with archeologists from the Smithsonian, such as Mary Leaky, Dr. Dale Stewart, and many more from National Geographic, including their very talented creative staff. Research for this project led Wegner to the works of painter Norman Rockwell, sculptor Rodin, and more importantly, Rodin’s protégé, Malvina Hoffman. What sparked Wegner’s interest, aside from their great approach to depicting human anatomy and expression was infusing emotion into the faces of their work, something that National Geographic people stressed with me for this project. “Give our ancestors feelings!” That was the order of the day.
The term “fragmentation”, now used to define Wegner’s style, came about when a newspaper reporter in Virginia interviewed him early in his career while working on the “Primitive Man” project and developing this new approach.
Wegner Goes to New York
Wegner began showing the new ideas, now cast in bronze, up and down the eastern seaboard. The very first large convention center art shows were beginning in New York and Los Angeles and soon after his first exhibit in 1981, Wegner was offered his first publishing contract in New York City. “The jazz series, which I had begun a few years earlier was top choice of all the works I had exhibited earlier.” Even though I had a wide range of subjects in bronze, from wildlife to nautical, mythological to futuristic it was the music that moved the audience and now the publishers more than anything else I had created at that point. Thus began the Jazz and Blues series, which is into its 25th year. The unveiling was at the Dyansen Gallery in SOHO, 1984. Lionel Hampton and his band played their music in the gallery on opening night and the music was broadcast live over 450 jazz stations across the United States. One of the artist’s favorite experiences in his career was that evening.
W.C. Handy & Memphis
Another of Wegner’s greatest thrills as a sculptor was in 1988, when he was presented a Blues Award in Memphis, TN, by B.B. King and Carl Perkins. Wegner created a sculpture of W.C. Handy (Father of Blues) for the First Heritage Museum in Memphis, which was used on stage for the Blues Awards program and created as part of the event to dedicate Handy’s childhood home. That house was brought to Beale Street. in Memphis, restored and turned into a museum. Later the sculpture was used in an important scene in the Academy Award winning film “The Firm”. Wegner won another “Keeping the Blues Alive Award” the following year and this time was made an honorary board member.
In 1989 Wegner was presented the “Key to the City” of New Orleans by the Mayor and made an “Honorary Citizen” in appreciation for all his sculptural works related to New Orleans which document that true American heritage known as Jazz. Annually, the Hilton Hotel in New Orleans dedicates 8 plaques designed by Wegner to be placed in cement at the Walk of Fame site. The names represent those who have influenced the state of Louisiana in a positive way. Pete Fountain invited Wegner to help lead Mardi-Gras with him in 1995. The theme that year was “Beauty and the Beast”. Wegner chose the beast.
US Naval Academy
His largest design, to date, which took nearly two years to complete, was permanently installed at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in October of 2000. The monument honors the more than 50 submarines lost at sea in the last century and the 3500 men who gave their lives serving in the submarine forces. It is located next to the Midway Memorial in the center of the Academy’s campus. During this project, Wegner was taken on a 2-day cruise off the coast of San Diego, California in a nuclear submarine, the USS Houston. This was the same sub used in the movie “The Hunt for Red October”. They actually performed the “blow” maneuver while Wegner was onboard which was rising out of the water at full speed. This was to allow Wegner the experience of that he was about to portray in bronze. It was yet another one of those, “once in a lifetime” opportunities.
The Jazz & Blues Series
Over the years Wegner has had many opportunities to discuss and learn about these music forms from a wide range of original music icons in jazz, blues and rock-and-roll, with musicians such as Pete Fountain, Lionel Hampton, John Lee Hooker, Carlos Santana. They were the inspiration behind the series of sculptures that Wegner has developed and created in bronze for more than 2 decades. Wegner’s style of fragmenting, along with the music theme were a natural combination. The free-floating style evokes an almost musical feel to the design itself, allowing the figures to roll with the instruments in a wave of upbeat, visual enjoyment. As many have seen, just turn on the music and the design seems to come alive.