Robert Chad

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Keepsake Artist Robert Chad

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Robert Chad

Title: Hallmark Artist
Date started at Hallmark: 1987
Date started at Keepsakes: 1987
Hometown: Fair Lawn, New Jersey

Robert Chad's drawing style took a turn when three-dimensional art captured his attention. He began sketching with the goal of making his images look like they were coming right off the page. He then tried three-dimensional pieces but never liked how they turned out.

Not one to give up on a challenge, Chad kept trying until he succeeded. Today, he makes rough sketches of Keepsake Ornaments that jump off the page and onto people's Christmas trees.

Chad began his career at Hallmark with the start of the Mary's Angels Keepsakes Ornament series. In 1987, Chad was a freelancer. When the Keepsake Studio asked him to bring Mary Hamilton's designs into a new medium, he was willing to give it a try. It was trial by fire—if Hallmark liked his work, there would be a job waiting for him. Chad became inspired by Mary Hamilton's angels and her ability to blend colors with interweaving accents and tones. It's been a beautiful partnership ever since.

At signing events, ornament enthusiasts often share with Chad what makes Mary's Angels such a meaningful part of their Christmas celebration. "Collectors tell me about the personal connection they have with the series. The angel often symbolizes a family member, sometimes a child, that has passed away. The robe's color reminds them of something they loved about that special person," Chad says. "Memories become all the more vivid during the holidays."

Sweet Trick-or-Treater

So, funny story…shortly before Mary Hamilton retired late last year, Robert wanted to see how she’d feel about taking the beloved Mary’s Angels and trying a few Halloween versions. He brainstormed a few ideas, one of which was Mary’s Devils. Not surprisingly, longtime churchgoer Mary was not exactly excited about it.

Robert chuckles when he recalls the exchange.

“I was pretty gung ho about the idea,” Robert says. “And I thought, well, maybe I should just go upstairs (to her ninth-floor space at Hallmark’s headquarters) and make sure she’s okay with this.”

Sure enough, she said she didn’t really want her name attached to something that turned her sweet angels into little devils.

“We respected that,” Robert says. “Her name is on these, and she’s such a sweet person.”

The basic idea of giving the angels a Halloween twist remained. They just became a little less…devilish.

“I started to see the cloud as a pumpkin and the character dressed up for trick-or-treating,” Robert says. “I’ve got a long list of costume ideas for these, if we keep doing them.”

Zinnia

29th in the Mary’s Angels series

Since working on his very first Mary’s Angels ornament 30 years ago, Robert has designed every single one in the series. Through the years, he’s developed plenty of experience adding subtle variations. And since it’s one of the most popular series in the Keepsake Ornaments line, he wants to make doubly sure the fans are getting something special every time.

“I’ve got sketchbooks upon sketchbooks of different situations, and every year there are three or four finalists that our team picks from,” Robert says.

Each angel is named for a different flower (Zinnia this year) and the color of the clothing reflects that flower. He created this year’s ornament as somewhat of an homage to vintage china dolls (the angel is holding its own doll).

“It’s a sketch that’s been around for a while,” Robert says. “I just keep coming back with things I think are relevant.”

Robert didn’t meet Mary Hamilton, the legendary Hallmark illustrator and original creator of Mary’s Angels, until three years into working on the series. After 60 years at Hallmark, Mary recently retired, but over the years, people often told her how much they loved her angel illustrations and the ornament versions as well. Robert said Mary was quick to point out that the ornaments were inspired by her work but that Robert designed them.

“She has always been so gracious.”

Mary's Angel Surprise

Robert felt a little nostalgic when he saw this year’s Mystery Ornament, a golden-winged version of the very first Mary’s Angels ornament he designed 30 years ago. Back then, Robert freelanced for Hallmark and hoped to get a wing in the door, so to speak.

“It was my trial by fire,” Robert says. “At the time, I was barely a sculptor. It took me 10 weeks to make this.”

Until that point, Robert had worked on stuffed animals and Hallmark’s Little Gallery figurines, which is how he first heard about a job opening in the Keepsake Studio, known back then as Trim a Home.

“All that started to change around the same time that I started,” Robert recalls, adding that the Keepsake Ornament Club is also about to turn 30.

What was the studio like back then? Well, it was long before rough sculpts and final designs could be finished out digitally. And although he has done a few of the Mary’s Angels designs digitally, he still prefers the tactile quality of working with wax.

“It’s what these things were made for,” Robert says, holding up his hands. “Pushing a pen or moving a mouse is fine, but to me it just never feels quite the same.”

And speaking of tactile rewards, whoever buys this ornament won’t know if they’ll get a “golden ticket” version (gold versus silver wings) until they open up the box!

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