Life & Times
Alexander G. Weygers began his life in 1901 in Java, Indonesia, the son of two Dutch Colonists. During his early childhood on his family’s sugar plantation, Weygers and his father explored the tropical jungles and mountains of exotic Java, instilling a profound love of nature, design and ecology. Following in his father’s footsteps, he apprenticed in his father’s blacksmith studio, while his mother schooled him in literature, languages, and penmanship. At the age of 14, Weygers was sent to Holland for his advanced studies in mechanical engineering and naval architecture. Moreover, the importance of self-reliance and sustainability were emphatically impressed upon him. “My education as a marine engineer came at the end of the steam age when we were expected to be master craftsmen and experts in metalwork,” Weygers said. “When parts wore out, there was no one there to save you while along at sea. You were expected to design and make replacements with whatever materials at hand.” After returning to Java to work as an engineer in 1923, he married and immigrated to the American Northwest working as a marine engineer and shipbuilding architect in Seattle. During this time, he began conceptual work on a futuristic design of his own invention, a revolutionary new kind of aircraft called the Discopter. The Discopter was round and disc-shaped, and was capable of floating on a cushion of air. Tragically, in 1928 Weygers lost both his wife and son in childbirth. Deeply mourning the loss of his family, Weygers made the decision to devote the rest of his life to his great passion, art.
Living in Seattle, he reached out to the Seattle Institute of Art, seeking a place to make his sculptures. He was connected with Avard Fairbanks, who agreed to give him unlimited access to his studio. During this time, he carved a monument to his wife entitled Mourning, a moving sculpture depicting the loss and grief that he was struggling with. He entered a contest for apprenticeship with internationally-renowned sculptor Lorado Taft, and won. Taft was so impressed with Mourning that he called it “one of the greatest sculptures by an untrained eye.” Weygers moved to Chicago and apprenticed with Taft for one year, at the end of which Taft connected him with some of the world’s top artistic masters. Weygers traveled the world, studying human anatomy at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, marble carving under Ettore Masi, and engraving with Paul Borne. He worked long hours with his teachers, starting at sunrise and leaving late at night after the sun had set. The work was hard, but Weygers was guided for his passion for his art, as well as his hunger for learning, a desire to gain master-level skills in these art forms. In 1936 he returned to the United States, teaching sculpture and engraving in Berkeley, California. Briefly, he worked in Southern California at Northrop Aviation, and during this time, he met his wife, Marian Gunnison Weygers, a Berkeley graduate and fellow artist.
When World War II arrived, the entire world was impacted, and Alexander Weygers’ life was turned upside-down. The Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies, and Weygers’ family captured and taken to a concentration camp. During this time, he began to work on his designs for the Discopter with renewed fervor, viewing it as having excellent potential for being a rescue vehicle. In 1943, a friend of Weygers died while fighting in the war, and bequeathed Weygers his estate in Carmel Valley, California. A man who had traveled around the globe extensively in his early years, he made a homestead in Carmel Valley with Marian in which they would both live for the rest of their lives. Together, Weygers and Marian moved to the property, living simply in a tent among the untamed California nature, foraging and hunting for food on the acres of land, and bartering for things they needed. While living in the tent, Weygers continued to work on his Discopter designs, and received a patent in 1944. He then began to send information about his design out to the top aviation companies of the day, hoping to generate interest in building the Discopter. Many simply did not reply, and one sent him a letter claiming his design was “too advanced” for the time. Weygers was disappointed by the lack of interest, but it was a bigger blow to him when in 1947, Kenneth Arnold was reported to have seen nine saucer-shaped aircrafts in the night sky. To the world at large, this was the birth of the flying saucer concept, but to Weygers, it was a harsh realization that his designs were being used without his consent. Though he wanted to see the designs built, Weygers was shocked that he, the designer and patent-holder had been circumvented in the process.
Disillusioned by the world of powerful aviation corporations, Weygers continued to live simply and work on his Carmel Valley property. Using reclaimed lumber and salvaged materials, he built a house and a studio for his sculpture. He put his blacksmithing skills to use, forging the tools for his home and sculpture from steel scraps. They tended a vegetable garden, from which they harvested much of their food. He and Marian lived an almost entirely money-free lifestyle, living from the land and bartering for things they needed, and Weygers became known as “the man who paid no income tax.” Free from the pressures of earning income, he continued to work on his art, and began teaching students principles of sculpture and toolmaking from his studio. Over the years, he taught thousands of students the fundamentals of making sculpture, and in the process, he gave his students a window into his unusual lifestyle, living in harmony with the land, building from recycled materials, independent from rigid societal constraints. In 1976, Weygers collected some of his teaching materials into a book and published The Modern Blacksmith, which has been called “the Bible of blacksmithing” since then. His next published books were The Making of Tools (1978) and The Recycling, Use, and Repair of Tools (1980). As the world continued to progress towards the digital age, and information became more readily available, Weygers continued to be a master teacher, imparting his knowledge directly to his students. To this day, his legacy lives on, through the impact he made through his books and teachings, and through the work of the Weygers Foundation.