Meet Austin Weishel: Firefighter and professional sculptor
Weishel has created numerous sculptures to honor fire, police and military services
When Austin Weishel was a child and young teen, he sometimes struggled. He was dyslexic, and school was often difficult for him. He did not feel a sense of purpose or direction. Then two things came into his life that changed everything: firefighting and sculpting.
Weishel grew up across the street from a fire station and admits to being “absolutely fascinated” by firefighters at a young age.
In high school, he had the opportunity to become involved with the Loveland (Colorado) Fire Department as a student firefighter. Around that same time, he had his first encounter with sculpture when his grandparents took him on a tour of a foundry in Prescott, Arizona.
Firefighting gave Weishel the sense of purpose he had lacked. Knowing that he was helping others made his own life better in every way. He loved the challenge and physicality of firefighting as well as the camaraderie and being part of a team. “That’s when my whole life opened up,” he said.
Sculpting was also a natural fit. When an artist at the foundry in Arizona gave him some clay and challenged him to create something, Weishel’s innate attraction to detail came through, and he sculpted a firefighter, which the foundry later cast in bronze. This experience led to a summer internship – and began Weishel’s career as an artist.
An artist’s life, plus firefighting
Weishel started with smaller sculptures but quickly moved onto creating life-size representations of firefighters.
He obtained his first commission at age 19, creating a statue called “Follow Your Heart” for the Windsor-Severance (Colorado) Fire Department.
He credits his early success to following his passion and the mantra: “Do what you love to do, and you will find the way.”
While working with Windsor to create this artwork, Weishel got to know people on the department. Already certified as a firefighter by then, Weishel joined the department as a volunteer and remains a member to this day, averaging one 12-hour shift per week in addition to training.
But artwork is Weishel’s full-time job. He is entirely self-taught and manages his own career independent of galleries or agents. Although he contracts out the actual bronze casting to a local foundry, Weishel is involved in all aspects of the sculpting process, from conception to installation.
At just 31, Weishel has had remarkable success in a tough and competitive business. He has created numerous sculptures to honor fire, police and military services. Several works feature service dogs. His sculptures have been installed across the country, beginning in his home state of Colorado, but now featured in places as far away as Texas, Florida and Washington, DC. One of his projects, “Ashes to Answers,” portrays a life-size firefighter with an arson dog. The sculpture is located at Fire Station #2 in downtown Washington, DC. This sculpture was voted the most popular monument in Washington, DC in a 2014 Washington Post poll.
In addition to his work portraying first responders, Weishel has also crafted sculptures of historical and religious figures and animals as well as more abstract pieces. His work is customized for each commission, and every piece reflects an intricate sense of detail.
Being an artist is an intense and solitary life, and the business aspect of the artist’s life is often difficult. Weishel has appreciated the counterpoint that his other role as a firefighter brings to his life. There is stress in each job, but a different kind of stress that can be balanced by the other.
“The fire department is a good reset for me,” he explained. “I love helping people and to serve. And I can bring that into my artwork as well.”
A sense of purpose
COVID-19 has affected Weishel as a professional artist, too. Several large commissions have been temporarily put on hold. His planned summer trip to Europe to study art had to be canceled. Still, he is hopeful about the future, anticipating a big contract in the coming year. While he sets specific goals for his work, he also tries to keep things flexible and “set goals without expectations.”
Weishel continues to live this truth as both a first responder and an artist. His work in both areas reflects his personal commitment and his sense of purpose. “When you’re buying a piece of artwork from me, you’re buying a piece of me,” he shared.
Learn more about Weishel’s work here.