Robert Hurlburt

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Keepsake Artist Robert Hurlburt

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Robert Hurlburt

Title: Hallmark Production Designer
Date started at Hallmark: 1978
Date started at Keepsakes: 2004
Hometown: Holden, Missouri

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.

1968 Chevrolet® Nova™ SS™ Keepsake Ornament

1968 Chevrolet® Nova SS Keepsake Ornament

Robert definitely understands that, for collectors and car enthusiasts, the 1968 Nova SS is special. “’68 was a transitional year for the model, and a lot of effort was put into making sure it had all of the key indicators that collectors will recognize,” Robert explained. “It had to say Nova and Super Sport to represent that particular year. We gave it the cool period wheels. A lot of other things were optional on this model, like the vented hood, and we included it because it looks great.”

On a personal level, this model reminds him of his brother. “He had this same car. His was all black with a lot of chrome. It was really hyped-up and powerful, and he raced it all the time.” Robert even had an older Nova of his own at one time, so as much as he likes working on any vehicle, this one was particularly fun for him.

The process for making this model began with a digital render. The components were then fabricated out of steel and put together, painted and detailed. “It’s similar to when we put model cars together back in the day, except it’s much smaller and the details are incredible. You might have to get out a magnifying glass to see it, but it’s all there.”

Robert is proud of the little touches that he was able to incorporate. When he meets collectors, he loves pointing out the details and explaining why and how they were added. “Understanding that level of detail adds to the experience—and the experience is what it’s all about.”

1932 Buick® Fire Engine Keepsake Ornament

1932 Buick® Fire Engine Keepsake Ornament

Working on the Fire Brigade Series really gets personal for Robert. “I have a best friend who died after working a fire. Whenever I work on a fire engine, it’s very meaningful to me to be able to do this.”

The story behind this year’s fire truck was special, as well. It began as a car that was stolen, used in a robbery, then burned to destroy the evidence! Lucky for the Arkansas (Ark) City, Kansas’s fire department, the fire only burned the rear end, and they rebuilt it into a fire truck. “The tank is actually an old milk can. They welded it to the truck in a way that allowed them to pop off the lid and fill it up with water to run to a fire.”

The truck outgrew its usefulness and was sold, but it eventually found its way back to the Ark City Fire Department. “It was interesting to see the quality of workmanship that they had done to it originally. And the restoration was just wonderful. When you see it, you think it must have been made that way. But it was something they made out of need. They needed it, and they had the skill to do it.”

Cinderella's Castle Keepsake Ornament

Cinderella's Castle Keepsake Ornament

This gorgeous castle is unique in many ways. It’s done in metal and silver plate with gems and gem-like cuts. The roof is covered with a beautiful, thick, blue enameling, and the front is adorned with gold plate. “We tried to capture the magic of the castle that would please collectors and fans,” Robert shared. “It’s so special,” he said, “it could stay on display well after Christmas, and even all year long.”

Whenever he works on a Disney piece, he has his two daughters to thank for his level of expertise on all things Disney. “Everything was Disney in our house. I’d look around and think maybe we have everything they made! They watched the films over and over and over. We always knew what to get them that would make them happy. And, of course, Cinderella was at the top of the list.”

Santa’s Sleigh Dome Heritage Ornament

Santa’s Sleigh Dome Heritage Ornament

Robert began his career at Hallmark as an engraver, and he was able to use that experience to enhance this ornament. “I knew that we could recreate old dies from the past, and I remembered this Santa figure from years ago. I asked to have just the head cut back in, so I could use it as a medallion on the sleigh. We flipped the file to get a reverse image for the mold, so both Santa faces are facing forward.”

The ornament also brought together the Keepsake Studio and the glassblowing partners in Poland. “I wasn’t sure they’d be able to recreate the twist I had in mind or the textures. I felt it might be pushing them a little further than they would normally go. But they love working with us and love the challenges we bring them. They’ve been able to hit the mark on everything!”

Designs from the Hallmark Archives served as inspiration for some of the details of the toys in Santa’s bag. “I like the way this ornament combines old and new,” Robert observed. “We used digital techniques and Old World craftsmanship. We called on previous works from the studio and my prior experience as an engraver, while also collaborating in real time with partners from across the sea.”

The Heritage ornaments are all inspired by works from the Hallmark Archives and reimagined by the Keepsake Artists that rediscover them.

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