Mike Leckie prefers to work in isolation. Situated deep in the southern Eugene forest, the local sculptor finds his artistic inspiration in the serenity and solitude of the surrounding woods. Here, Leckie is able to focus on his craft without distraction — something he says more artists should do.

“Too many young artists want to talk about what they’re doing with their friends,” said Leckie. “That doesn’t help you make your art. Your art is you, alone in the studio, working.”

A lifelong sculptor with over 35 years of professional experience, Leckie has mastered both carving and bronze sculpting. But his artistic vision was present long before he began selling his work. His earliest sculptures — which he still has — are small balsa wood and cork carvings from around third grade.

“I was always the class artist,” Leckie said. “From when I hit school they looked at me and said ‘Wow, you can do stuff we can’t do.’ They were trying to stay inside the lines, and I’m drawing the lines for them.”

A pair of Mike Leckie’s sculptures. He sculpts many depictions of the human body, which he says he sees as abstract forms. (Savannah Mendoza/Emerald)

Leckie is a self-described “aggressive” sculptor. As a former rodeo star, he taps into the toughness and self-reliance he learned while growing up on a ranch in Eastern Oregon and implements those traits into his artistry.

“I’m not afraid to take one step in front of the other one just to go do it,” Leckie said. “A lot of people hang back. A lot of young artists have trouble finishing work because when you finish a piece and you say, ‘It’s now finished,’ people can criticize it and tell you what’s wrong with it.”

Leckie exclusively sculpts figures, but he noted how the processes of creating abstract and figurative sculptures are more closely related than most observers think. Leckie thinks abstractly about individual body parts — for example, he visualizes the shape of a shoulder, then the shape of a neck and then combines those forms to make the smooth figures.

”Those abstract forms are, to people who don’t see abstract forms, anatomy,” Leckie said. “I’m really trained to use my eyes in a different fashion. I notice detail that a lot of people don’t see. I actually see the world a little differently.” 

Leckie prominently displays many of his past sculptures throughout his home and studio. One of his more recent works, a bronze bust of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe, sits on a bookshelf still alongside its rubber mold and clay model.

He chose to depict Joseph in his youth because he feels Joseph’s perception is one of old age and suffering, when in fact Joseph had immense potential and exuberance.

Leckie’s sculpture of Chief Joseph as a young man. (Savannah Mendoza/Emerald)

“There’s this big problem that we only know him as an old man with severely downturned corners of his mouth,” Leckie said. 

To create a bronze sculpture, Leckie has to first create a clay model of what the finished product will resemble. Then, he creates a wax or rubber mold around the outside of the clay model, which can be removed and filled in with molten bronze.

Many sculptors choose to specialize in either bronze sculpting or carving; however, Leckie appreciates the work required in both processes and feels comfortable with both. 

“Additive is what you do with bronze. You start with an armature and you add clay to come up to the outside surface,” Leckie said. “Carving, you start with something larger and you go in to the outside surface of the piece.”

Leckie is drawn most to carving marble or other precious rocks because he is a self-proclaimed “rock-hound.” 

“When I’m looking at rocks … I’m not thinking about rocks for what they are, but I’m thinking about what I could do with them,” Leckie said.

Recently, Leckie returned from Quartzsite, Arizona, after visiting a large rock show where he examined and purchased exotic rocks from around the world. Leckie is a regular at these shows because it gives him a chance to view a wide variety of samples in one location; he can also relate to the passion the sellers have for their rocks.

“I’m kind of addicted to rocks,” Leckie added. “When you love them at that level, you don’t want to waste it.”

Leckie’s collection of rocks in his house. These will one day be turned into sculptures. (Savannah Mendoza/Emerald)

Check out an article about a LEGO sculpture exhibit at OMSI here

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