Get it right is Robert Hurlburt's mantra. Even as a child, Robert took a scientific approach to his art. No purple suns in his boyhood pictures. He enjoyed sketching celebrities from photographs. "I wanted to see how close I could get," he says. With that kind of mindset and determination, it's no surprise that when he was hired at Hallmark over 25 years ago, Robert excelled in the detail-focused engraving department.
In late 2004, he brought his talents to the Keepsake department, which he calls "a whole new game." Just a month into his job, Robert was asked to design. His first ornament, a Star Wars™ piece, was available in 2006.
As the Keepsake Artists continue to collaborate, Robert is challenged with finding ways to keep the creative process simple and the sculpture detailed. Robert is hooked on working with three-dimensional product, and his scientific mind continues to question how to take his artwork further. The daily one-hour commute to Hallmark gives him plenty of time to think about ornament design. When he's home, Robert is a soybean farmer. He and his wife share their 40-acre homestead with horses, ducks and chickens and are considering adding llamas to the collection.
TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Edythe: “This was a fun project. Everybody in the studio had a category (a group of products to focus on), and ours was Santa Magic. Having seen a piece of research that someone brought in, I thought, we do books but books are flat. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have the whole three-dimensional character be the book?
We’ve done books with characters jumping out and we’ve done ornaments with books as companion pieces. But we thought we’d take the next step where the 3-D thing is the book because Santa is a plump enough guy to carry a whole book in there.”
Robert: “So we put an earth magnet in there. It’s strong enough to keep the whole thing together. I brought Edythe’s ideas based on her artwork and I created the book first. I wanted to have the book in the shape of the Santa, and then I sculpted on top of the book cover and sculpted the backside from that. We had to get the story, the number of pages, the way it would fold just right. We also worked with our books department to get the font type right so we could get the pages right. The pages of the book are very durable. They’re less like paper and more like card-stock.”
“This was a classic wax sculpt. I often work digitally, but if it has more of an organic, human element, it’s more enjoyable to do it in wax sculpted by hand. Plus, it makes it easier to make sure it’s true to her design and still works. We have to make sure it’s going to hang right, etc.”
Edythe: “We were working with the idea of Santa Magic, so people thought, ‘Oh it’s going to have lights and sounds,’ but we didn’t need that because it’s just the magic of the story. In the end, it felt great because a little light bulb went off, and we thought, ‘Why haven’t we done this before?’”
PREVIOUS PROFILE (July 2013)
1941 FORD FIRE ENGINE
11th in the Fire Brigade series
"My best friend was a fireman for the Kansas City Fire Department. I was asked to sculpt this fire truck about the same time he died in a fire-related situation. When I finished sculpting, the ornament went right to his wife, so it became so much more than just a fire truck for me."
"This ornament was also a lot of fun because I got to sculpt all the little details like tires and treads. Sometimes we send a photographer out to get reference photos, and they take hundreds of images of the tiniest details. These details help ensure the ornament is something that enthusiasts will look at, too, and say ‘wow, that’s cool!’”
ALL TERRAIN SCOUT TRANSPORT (AT-ST)
Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi
"The first ornament that I sculpted on the Keepsakes team was actually another Star Wars™ ship—the AT-AT. I’ve been asking to do the Chicken Walker for years because it’s just such a cool vehicle. I wanted to have it in action, not just as a standing pose, so I could give it this great expression and add terrain that’s almost like the scene where he’s tripped up by the logs. My grandsons got to see him, and all my other Star Wars™ ornaments, before anyone else. They know more about the Star Wars™ movies than I do, so when I’m all finished sculpting something, I let them check it out to see what ideas and input they can give me."