Hallmark Production Designer
Started at Hallmark:
November 7, 1978
Started at Keepsakes:
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 more than 30 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 home, Robert and his wife, Lori, are constantly tinkering on projects at the farm and sharing their 40-acre homestead with horses, chickens, cats and dogs.
Santa’s Workbench (2016)
When he imagined what Santa’s Workbench should look like, Robert Hurlburt kept thinking about his grandfather’s tool bench in Seneca, Kansas. Robert would have been about 12 years old back then, in the early 1970s, when he’d walk the three blocks from his grandparents’ house to his grandfather’s general repair shop in downtown Seneca.
“I’d always see him in there tinkering with something,” Robert says. Everyone in town just knew his grandpa as “the guy you took your stuff to and he’d work on it.” It didn’t matter if it was a TV or a radio, a power tool or an old grandfather clock, or even the occasional broken toy. Then, in true Americana style, they’d head over to the sweet shop for an ice cream.
Those memories of dedication to craftsmanship (and treats!) served him well as he envisioned the Santa’s Workbench ornament. Robert added elements that didn’t necessarily need to be there but showed the extra attention to detail Santa would naturally have: things like the ornate, raised detailing; the curve in the middle that would make it easier to work; the snowflake-shaped vise grip; and the brass caps on the knobs of the toolbox.
“Is everyone going to notice those things? Maybe not,” Robert says. “But it gives you the sense that there’s a bit more detail there.” The bench follows in a recent tradition of ornaments featuring objects from the home of Santa and Mrs. Claus, including an armoire, a kitchen cupboard and a dining room set. Robert created the bench but, as the 2016 studio ornament, the piece features something made by every artist in the Keepsake Studio. The process required a lot of teamwork, as each artist handed off their creation and Robert found the best place for it to land.
“It’s a big, collaborative effort,” Robert says. “It takes time to figure out the puzzle and make it all fit.”
This ornament will be available exclusively at the 2016 artist signing events.
1959 GMC® Fire Engine (2016)
14th in the Fire Brigade series
When the firefighters in Bedford Park, Illinois, heard their fire truck would be immortalized in an ornament, they happily took many pictures from every possible angle to help with the design.
“They were taking pictures of the tiniest details, little nameplates and tags,” Robert says, laughing as he remembered opening all the images. “Some of these things would be like fly specks on the finished design, but we were happy to have as much detail as they gave us.”
The eighth fire engine in the series was modeled after one from Leawood, Kansas, the Kansas City suburb where the old Hall family farm is located. Ever since, they’ve tried to find a truck with some kind of interesting background. This rare fire engine, equipped with an articulating boom and elevated firefighting platform, definitely fits the bill. It was the first of its kind to be built and is currently undergoing a complete restoration.
Just like the cars featured in Hallmark Garage, the featured trucks have a history that gives each piece its heart and soul. “We want to do something tied to the real world, to find a little story behind it,” Robert says. “Then you can tell part of that story with an ornament.”
Our First Christmas (2016)
When Robert started working on this ornament, he thought back to his two daughters, each now married with two children of their own.
“I just thought about their early years of being married and what would I have wanted to give to them,” Robert said. “You’ve got to make something pretty special. It’s a very heartfelt situation.”
The heart shape is formed by two stems crossing over each other, as though they might be willow branches. Working from illustrations by fellow Keepsake Artist Edythe Kegrize, Robert made sure to give the mistletoe a natural look, even though it has a metal finish.
“We wanted the leaves to have a little more movement, with some variation in how each one is formed, so it almost looks like a succulent plant,” Robert said. “We wanted something with an organic feel that also looked like gold jewelry with little pearls.”
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (2014)
Edythe Kegrize: “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?
Edythe: 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.
Robert: 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.”
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?’”
1941 Ford Fire Engine (2013)
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) (2013)
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.”