museums&MORE Summer 2020
Matt Buckley By Debbie Eisele

A sculptor with an ambition to bring affordable sculpture into the marketplace

After compiling a portfolio of drawings in the late 1980’s, sculptor Matt Buckley pursued acceptance into an art college to broaden his horizons. “Admittedly the subjects within the portfolio leant themselves more toward the macabre with titles such as ‘The Devil Inside Out,’ ‘The Mask’ and ‘Mind Manipulation’ but I was not prepared for the sheer distaste towards my work from the interviewing lecturers. Needless to say it was a no,” he shared.

Matt Buckley sculpting an elephant bust
Photos courtesy of Matt Buckley

Fast forward 30 years and the artist is the founder of Edge Sculpture, whose work has been part of Enesco’s product offerings since 2019. Buckley’s artistic journey began about 30 years ago when he became involved in his family’s small business, Robert Harrop Designs (RHD). The family business was founded by Buckley’s stepfather, Bob, and mother in England.

After the initial disappointment, Buckley turned to T-shirt designs until he was presented with another opportunity — this time to draw a series of whimsical British birds. During this time, collectibles were on the rise and his drawings and the popularity of collectibles led him to his next artistic endeavor — sculpting.

“This to me was an opportunity that needed to be grasped and learnt, very, very quickly. So with a bit of time and patience, along with a swift learning curve and literally having to get more proficient piece by piece in only a matter of months, we were able to release a small range called ‘The Roostings’ and we were able to launch them in the Spring of 1992,” he said.

Matt Buckley, sculptor, working on his art

After the initial sculptures were completed, “everything developed at an incredible pace.” Buckely shared he had an ambition — to bring more collectible figurines into the marketplace. This was when he spent countless time researching what companies were producing globally. “I can particularly remember spending hours studying copies of Collectible Editions from the U.S., which to me demonstrated the finest quality of pieces both from a sculpting and production point of view that money could buy. Enesco’s Walt Disney pieces seemed to have such a perfectly balanced look and were always breathtakingly accurate, which for me truly set the bar,” he emphasized. “I also loved the quirk and design with Department 56’s pieces, which conceptually were so striking and clean. I actually started buying ‘Snow Babies’ for my partner Becky and also have five of Enesco’s marvellous mechanical pieces. Now all retrospective classics.”

Today, Buckley remains the creative director for RHD, but shares this position with his brother, Dan. “In 2010 everything began to change for me,” recalled Buckley. “Producing licensed properties was both a fantastic and privileged position to be in and I had developed a seasoned team to continue working on them. This allowed me to concentrate on bringing something new and evocative into the marketplace.”

Matt Buckley's shark sculpture
Matt Buckley truly believes that the animal kingdom possesses the best subject matter and his primary focus is capturing the face to create a soul and character within the sculpture. Photo courtesy of Matt Buckley.

Buckley had other aspirations — “chasing the notion of a look to a piece” that he had thought about for many years. “Free from any boundaries or scale confinements and with clay as my choice of material … I wanted to sculpt a piece that had no agenda or targeted niche that had to instead win a customer through its look and sense of boldness,” he said. “A piece that displayed in a shop could catch people by surprise, that they could touch and feel, becoming even more engaged with the more that they looked at it.”

The first piece he sculpted with this new endeavour was the Bull Terrier Bust. According to Buckley it offered a very “skeletal” feel. After he finished the sculpture the piece was developed into a prototype so the company could produce the art at a realistic cost. “This was very important indeed because I very much wanted to make a piece that was affordable to most people yet still was in every way a pure art form piece. Also being hand painted with a purposely naive finish and correct colouration allowed the piece to retain an authentically weathered and vintage look.”

Matt Buckley's bald eagle sculpture

After this initial piece, Buckley began working on a range of sculptures that included: Welsh Dragon, Saxon Warrior, Owl and Elephant. Since all the creations were going well, he embarked on the Tiger Bust, a piece which invoked the “ferociousness” of this feline. “I truly believe that the animal kingdom possesses the best subject matter of all with so many amazing creatures and for me capturing the face is always my primary focus and creating a soul and character within them is paramount.”

This is how and when Buckley formed Edge Sculpture. The name described the “nature of the work perfectly” and the name was inspired by his mother who thought the pieces had an “edge” to them. Buckley and his brother launched into the marketing aspects for these sculptures and presented the collection in a tradeshow environment, and achieved a positive response.

Matt Buckley's Medusa sculpture

Edge Sculpture really hit its stride in 2012, the year Buckley’s trade show location improved and happened to be placed next to Enesco’s booth. Interest in his worked grew as his art produced a fine art statement at “everyman, everywoman prices.” A sales manager from Enesco UK began communicating with the Buckley brothers. “Because of my background and my fondness toward the giftware industry as a whole, every show I would always have a look on the Enesco stand. It was also startling that as the years had rolled by how many of the companies producing so much marvellous work had ceased, yet Enesco had continued to market these ranges and creations that would have otherwise simply just faded into insignificance. Which means in many ways they had become a curator and guardian of the past,” he shared.

Matt Buckley's sea turtle sculpture

Buckley solidified his working relationship with Enesco. “I am always very much about delivering a quality product and for me Enesco is still very much the pinnacle in being able to achieve this,” he said.

Buckley is an enthusiastic individual by nature and his work with Enesco has afforded him amazing opportunities. “For me working with Enesco conjures up so many possibilities of the wonderful sculptures that I might possibly be able to work on, let alone the powerful Native American imagery, which from an artistic point of view could make for some breathtaking pieces indeed,” he enthused.

Since then, Buckley and Michael Griffith, president of Enesco North America, have developed a collaborative rhythm that provided Buckley artistic freedom and led to Enesco launching Edge Sculpture at AmericasMart.”

Matt Buckley's Horse Head sculpture

“We feel very fortunate to be able to bring Matt’s work to the North American consumer. After our initial launch in late 2019, we saw strong sell through at retail,” said Griffith. “We look forward to growing Edge to the level of popularity it has in Europe.”

Buckley’s most recent work-in-progress includes a bear cub that Enesco hopes to have available by Christmas. He also shared that there are several new releases from Enesco this year and that there is a “watch this space” attitude. “Look out for 2021,” he enthused. “I am getting out my bags of clay already!”

Debbie Eisele

Debbie Eisele is the former managing editor for Gift Shop Plus, Stationery Trends and a variety of special issue publications, including: The Guide, Holiday Shop, Celebrations & Occasions and Waterfront Living.

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