Self-taught bronze sculptor Dawn Weimer, remembered
Not many in this life can say they have a God-given talent and passion for their craft, but for the late Dawn Weimer, that is exactly where her talent for bronze sculpting came from.
Dawn never attended college for anything related to art despite telling her parents at the age of 7 that she would become a professional artist.
“From the time she was 3 she was always drawing or something of that nature,” said Tom Weimer, Dawn’s husband of almost 52 years. “Her parents just kind of rolled their eyes at it but she did eventually become one.”
Tom and Dawn met as high school sophomores, 57 years ago, they have been together ever since. The pair trained American Quarter horses out of Wellington, Colo., in the ‘70s as well as competed in rodeos until 1982. After almost 15 years as a paralegal, Dawn decided to pursue her true professional passion as a painter.
“Everything she did she sold almost immediately,” Tom said. “She did great but she tore up or painted over a lot of them. She always struggled with her painting.”
At one point, another artist asked Dawn if she ever thought about being a sculptor and she told her no, never. Just two years later in 1991 she began sculpting.
“God just dropped it on her and gave her the desire to do it,” Tom said. “She took off with it and I think we were both blown away by it. That was the furthest from her mind but God works in mysterious ways.”
Her first bronze sculpture was of an elephant, which came as a surprise to Tom since he expected her to do a horse first. Based on their odd movements, proportions and skin texture, elephants were more of a challenge for Dawn than a horse she told him.
“I asked her once if she ever measured anything and she said no,” said Bill Lentz, a long-time collector of Dawn’s sculptures of all sizes. “Tom did some measurements once for a buffalo she worked on and they were exactly right. That is a special skill, one I am convinced few people have.”
In 1995 Colorado State University commissioned Dawn to sculpt a bighorn ram, this was the piece that truly launched her career. It was installed on campus in 1999. Table-size pieces of the sculpture were sold to help pay for the enlargement of the ram.
“Not one of the statues put in at CSU cost the taxpayers or education a dime,” Tom said. “That’s just what we did for our home state, 36 pieces in the state have been funded this way.”
Dawn has many monumental sculptures that can be found across Colorado, as well as in Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Iowa, Minnesota and Washington D.C. She only did five sculptures of people, three of those are now in museums, including the Smithsonian.
“It has been quite a ride through the years watching her develop from a painter,” Tom said. “After she started sculpting, she never picked up a paint brush again. She told me that every piece she saw in her mind, finished before she even started it.”
Usually sculptors sketch their idea before they start forming it in clay, but Dawn only ever did this for her first and last pieces. Her last piece, commissioned in 2003, was the Rocky Mountain rumble for the CSU football stadium.
“Dawn’s creation of two dueling rams in front of CSU’s football stadium is one of her creations that I really love,” Lentz said. “She did that out of her own imagination. I think it represents something that people can connect with.”
Dawn was originally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease but as it rapidly progressed she was re-diagnosed with Lewy body dementia.
“Most other dementia patients are very down on themselves,” Tom said. “She almost always had a smile on her face. I was very fortunate that she remembered me. When she started the rams she was already in the disease, but to sculpt was no problem, it was the Lord using her hands.”
In her 15-year career she produced 150 different pieces of various sizes. In 2000 alone, she did 20 pieces, including a 9-foot tall bear.
“Her ability to produce such exquisite pieces so quickly may have been because deep down she knew she didn’t have the amount of time to sculpt that other artists did,” Lentz said. “When she was in her studio she was in a world of her own.”
Sometimes Tom had to pull Dawn out of the studio late at night just so she would actually eat and go to sleep. After CSU commissioned Dawn for the first ram, she had orders keeping her busy for more than five years.
“She told me once that she had more ideas in her head than she would ever have time to do,” Tom said. “Customers would call to make an order but I’d have to tell them she was five years away from working on it and they never had a problem. It said a lot about her work.”
Tom ultimately ran the business aspect of Dawn’s sculpting, operating out of their home rather than a gallery. Dawn passed away this past February, but her legacy lives on in her sculptures and the lives she touched through them.
“I just want to be able to honor her memory, I have a lot of ideas,” Tom said. “Her proportions are so good on her table-size pieces that I can use 3-D printing to enlarge some of her pieces and recast.”
Tom, his son and daughter-in-law will continue making a limited number of enlargements of Dawn’s pieces through June. To view Dawn’s work visit http://www.dawnweimer.com.❖
— King is a freelance writer from Oakland, Neb., who is a graduate student at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. She can be reached at email@example.com.