Nestled in the woods just beyond the city limits of Eugene, Mike Leckie’s home is filled with noses, shoulders, butts and bellies. He lives alone with his two dogs, and the human figures filling the spaces in Leckie’s home are all his own creations.
“I say that my medium is the figure,” says Leckie. “I actually work in bronze, cast iron, glass, marble and other stones, but the only thing I am interested in is the figure. So the medium doesn’t make much difference.”
It’s obvious to anyone who takes one look at this place that Leckie is enthralled with the human body. There are faces mounted on the walls, fragmented body pieces in cast iron and isolated carvings of male torsos laying across his vanity in the way you might display your jewelry.
He sleeps in the house’s main room, surrounded by the bodies he’s created. The corner of Leckie’s studio is overrun by large stones, each a different shape and color. Some are jagged and rough, others have already been neatly polished. Before he started carving from stone, Leckie collected rocks. His blue eyes light up when he talks about calcites and fluorites, and when he holds them, he looks at them in the way most of us would a small child.
“I probably have 150 rocks available right now,” says Leckie. “When I decide that it’s time to do something, I really do go hang out with the rocks because most of them, I have already kind of decided what I will carve out of them.”
While they are impressive, these rocks are nothing compared to the figures that Leckie produces from them. He creates soft and subtle human curves with a beckoning energy about them. They command their space while simultaneously drawing you towards them. Often, at shows, Leckie says that people ask him if they can touch his sculptures.
“I encourage people to touch my pieces and they are pretty funny about being surprised that it is a cold rock when they touch it,” he says. “I try to leave some of that rough, jagged rock around the bottom, around the base of every one of my pieces, because I want people to know what kind of work it took to pull this figure out of something that’s hard and unforgiving.”
After nearly 50 years of sculpting, Leckie is no stranger to this physically demanding process. For his carving projects, he starts by selecting the rock and drawing the figure directly on the stone. He uses his diamond-edged saw to remove the larger chunks of rock from around the figure, making parallel cuts about an inch apart on the edge of the stone.
Then he uses a pneumatic chisel, which looks similar to a power drill, to break off the pieces between the indents made by the saw. He repeats this process a few times before he gets close enough to the figure, at which point he switches to a smaller saw to do more of a detailed job rounding out the body. At this point, Leckie often redraws the figure on to the stone, adjusting to any mistakes he might have made in the carving process so far, and to make the shape of the figure more defined against the rock.
Leckie follows the contour of these lines with the pneumatic chisel, redrawing constantly the more rock he removes from the sculpture. After several rounds of this process, Leckie switches to tools about the size of his fingertips for the fine lines and details. He works with grinders, sanders and hand filers with delicate and precise detail to produce his finished piece.
Over the years, Leckie says he has grown in technical sophistication and remains inspired by the people around him. In addition to aesthetic beauty, his sculptures are interactive to viewers in the way that they provoke them to read the body language of the human form.
“I try very hard to think about the actual psychological implications of the body language that are going on in each piece,” Leckie says. “I have a responsibility to use that body language to tell a story, to put the psychological implications into the work that people are reading, even if they are not aware that they’re reading it.”
Leckie believes that the realism in his sculptures forces the viewer to perceive them as they would a fellow human. This is how he impacts others with his art, and he wants this impact to be a positive one.
“I want to hit people in the back of their brains so that they don’t know quite why they respond to my work the way that they respond to it,” Leckie says. “And it’s a manipulation, you know. It’s a psychological manipulation. But I think it’s my job. I want people to get a form of stability, and a form of kindness. I think I’m trying to show the world what other people are.”
Leckie aims to create an alluring exterior and an equally fascinating personality for these sculptures. This process of giving life to the lifeless is both a mental and physical one for Leckie, and they go hand in hand.
“They’re not really a separate process because the physical act of the carving is directed by the mental attitude I am looking to find in the rock,” he says. “It is a juxtaposition of things on top of one another because they are both there even though they’re extremely separate all the time.”
This sense of mindfulness is crucial to Leckie’s work, and is reflected in the energy of his finished pieces.
“I think that I have a singular inspiration that is always in the back of my mind when I do every one of the pieces that I do, about how everything does count and everything is valuable,” Leckie says. “And when I think that, then the work that I am producing hopefully has that attitude in it.”
These stories were contributed by the JAM Project, an upper-division journalism class at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. For more information about the class, please contact professor Tom Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.