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ARTIST PROFILE: Sculptor Robert Eccleston busy with public work

July 6, 2017
By STEVE LESTER - Correspondent (news@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID-For Robert Eccleston, it all began around 1991 when he saw some pricey wildlife sculptures he couldn't afford, so he decided to learn how to make them himself.

Now he has 14 public art sculptings in eight different states with more commissions on the way.

"I'm basically middle class," he said. "I consider myself lucky because there are a lot of great sculptors out there, (but) you have to make your own luck in this business. If I were just sitting around waiting for someone to call me I'd be doing something else."

Article Photos

Robert Eccleston
(Photos provided — Steve Lester)

Eccleston, 52, was an Army infantry captain and instructor at the Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, Vermont, who had been sent to Washington state to teach mountaineering and survival skills on Mount Ranier when he saw those wildlife sculptures at a nearby museum. The Staten Island native already had a degree in industrial design from Syracuse University, so when he flew back east, he took a sculpting course at the University of Vermont before moving to Lake Placid around 1993 after leaving the Army.

Eccleston spent the next five years carving out a sculpting career while supplementing his income working for low pay as a mountain guide.

"I had to get very creative on how to live on $8,000 a year. Hunting became a necessity for sustenance," he said.

Now Eccleston owns Cloudsplitter Studio and has two works on display in the area: the Art Devlin Sr. memorial statue at the base of the Olympic Jumping Complex and the St. Agnes Catholic Church altar on Saranac Avenue. He specializes in public art such as memorial statues on downtown public squares where he competes against other sculptors for commissions.

"It's just a great way to be creative and actually make a living," he said.

Eccleston evolved into the world of public art by accident when a co-worker at the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center suggested he apply to create the New York State Women Veterans Memorial. He didn't win the commission, but he considers it a blessing in disguise.

"The artist who won had a heck of a time with the committee," he said. "The more you do this, the more you run into personalities that make you have to be a politician."

Soon afterward, Eccleston earned his first notable project in 1998 when he was commissioned to sculpt the Fallen Firefighters Memorial currently on display in Albany on the Empire State Plaza. For this he went up against other more experienced sculptors, some of whom already had projects on display in Washington, D.C.

"My biggest project up to then was the 2-foot-high models I did for this. The actual statues are 10 feet high," he said.

Even though Eccleston worked as often as 16 hours a day on this project, he considers it among the easiest he's ever done "from the standpoint of how smoothly everything went."

The attention to detail can get very involved when sculpting people in uniform, he said.

"I get these re-enacters who come up and say, 'You have a button in the wrong place,'" he said.

On the other hand, Eccleston considers the bronze altar at St. Agnes among the most enjoyable ever for being free from such minute details.

"That one was fun. It was pure creativity," he said.

On Eccleston's website the priest at St. Agnes, Rev. John Yonkovig, comments, "The committee found him a pleasure to work with in all aspects of the endeavor. Some artists are proprietary and inflexible. Rob was solicitous of ideas and highly cooperative from the imagination phase to the final product."

Eccleston has received testimonials from national figures as well. For the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial in Texas, former president George H.W. Bush said, "I want to congratulate the sculptor Robert Eccleston for his magnificent artwork. The work truly captures the essence of our veterans: self-sacrifice and dedication to duty."

One future project is massive for Lake Placid: life-sized statues of all 26 members of the 1980 Olympic hockey team.

"They're just a great group of guys," he said. "They're down to earth, humble, and they make you want to work hard for them."

Although this project may result in a handsome paycheck while taking up a great deal of his time, it doesn't mean Eccleston stops looking for work until it's finished.

"If you focus too much on one project, it can be like watching water boil," he said. "You always have to keep looking for more work."

To see more of Eccleston's works, visit www.roberteccleston.com.

 
 

 

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