“Wax Carvers Wanted”
In an age where graphic designers trip over themselves in digital media and CGI continues seeping into the fabric of film, there is a physical art that has become buried by this virtual world. Rather an artist: The sculptor. The person who can create an object that you can actually feel because it has dimension. It takes up space, not just time.
“I like sculpting because it is three dimensional and the stuff exists in the same space that we exist in.” Meet Matthew Hennek. His mother pointed out a “Want Ad” in the Star Tribune for “Wax Carvers Wanted.” He called the number. It was “Tivoli Too” (Google it). They hired him. Since then Matthew has worked for companies like Tivoli Too and Disney for over two decades.
On being an Artist
Matthew’s candor is immediate and almost as strong as his sincerity. “All any artist wants to do is to sit around, sculpt, draw, paint, whatever they feel and have people throw money at them to own it. And that really is the trick.
“If you can stay busy eight hours a day, five days a week and have enough projects coming in that you can work that often it’s a great way to make a living. BUT you end up getting paid the way boa constrictors eat. You get paid, but you can’t spend it on anything because you don’t know when the next project is coming. And with the economy doing what it’s doing (now), people aren’t going to spend their money on cookie jars or anything like that.”
Niche Marketing his work
He found a niche market in creating fairy doors and sells them through his Etsy site. It was Matthew’s mother’s idea after seeing fairy doors for sale on QVC. She told him, “Matthew, they’re selling fairy doors for $30-$40 dollars apiece and they don’t even open! You should make some that open.” Matthew made the doors open. He says they are small, so it keeps his overhead low. He explains, “A lot of sculptors….”, he pauses, “particularly male sculptors, want to work BIG. I have a friend who makes these life size moose, which look GREAT. But you need a garage to work in….and you gotta heat it….and materials are expensive.”
He continues, “I wanted something that I could work on in my home. Shipping is cheap. And…people buy small things.” I couldn’t argue with that. One of his fairy doors I saw even had a “Shining” axe stuck in it. Room number and all. “A custom request,” he explained.
Friendly and Philosophical
He has done “lots and lots” of Winnie the Pooh work, especially in the mid-to-late 90’s when Pooh was quite popular. For several years Hennek felt that is all he did. Afterwards he created Snow White and other classic ‘Disney stuff.’ Now that Pixar is in the mix with Disney, he has finished up a “Dori” and “Nemo” project most recently. A blue, six inch Dori piece lies on it’s side on one of his work benches. It is instantly recognizable. Yet it winds up looking a bit like a fish out of water among the many Winnie the Pooh characters holding court among the rest of his figurines.
So when he tells me that Winnie the Pooh is definitely his favorite among the characters, I am not surprised. When I ask him, “Why is Winnie the Pooh your favorite?” he pauses for a long moment and then begins pouring it out with tempo. “I have a soft spot for him. He is so friendly and philosophical and the stories are…” he pauses again, “…sort of deep.” There is a youthful exuberance in Matthew’s voice as he describes Winnie the Pooh. I can’t help but feel the kind-hearted, humble nature of Pooh’s character emanating from the sculptor sitting before me in his messy studio surrounded by thousands of hours of intricate work, yet now still hidden from all but everyone. The lamps he has clamped around his work stations give off as much heat as they do light (and it’s bright). Scattered among the many brushes, metal tools, sculptor potions and paints, are molds that ranged from an “Alien” egg he did as a joint promo for Casio watches and the film to a bearded dwarf that slightly resembles his creator. A resemblance Matthew is quick to point out. Many of the molds are unpainted and mere prototypes (literally) of the finished pieces. The same pieces you would have paid good money for as novelties at a Warner Bros. store before they went belly up.
He delivers on your imagination
But there was one piece that definitely stood out among all the rest. It is the piece you see on the cover of this month’s issue. I came to know of Matthew’s talent when he helped donate some of his fairy doors to the IOCP Fundraiser we hosted at an Indoor Auto silent auction last April. When of my best friends was married later that year, I had an idea. I wanted to see if Matthew would be willing and able to commission an original sculpture as a wedding gift. When I contacted him, he got back to me quickly and after chatting briefly about the idea, he seemed open and interested. I then emailed him pictures of two characters from a 90’s Super Nintendo game called, “Ogre Battle.” It was a cult classic which helped define a few great summers as a teenager with my respective, now married friend. Anyway, the nostalgic impact of a commissioned original piece of tactile artwork done by an actual Disney grade sculptor (my friend also loved 90’s Disney movies – especially the songs) had epic potential. Matthew and I discussed price and a fair deal was struck….well, to be fair Matthew may have been a bit too fair on price for this kind of work. Needless to say, his work delivered beyond expectations. A true pro. I am still blown away by his attention to detail and his can do AND candid attitude about what could AND could not be done throughout the entire process.
So yeah, in a nation consumed by mass produced big box novelties from China and gift registries that read like a novel written by Amazon, I urge you to consider reaching out to Matthew Hennek. A professional sculptor here in Medina who has been sculpting whimsical, lovable characters for decades and is still capturing the imaginations of adults and children alike. His fairy doors actually open.
Anyway, thank you Matthew Hennek for taking the time to tell your story to Medina Living readers and also for creating one of the coolest gifts I could have ever imagined to give my friend. After all, it isn’t every day one gets to see Deneb and Worrak skipping through a valley in Cody, right Jon?
Photo credit: Seth Finck