Hoboken-based artist Chris Dahlberg’s career has been a mix of the classical and the cutting-edge. While Chris is classically trained as a sculptor and holds an MFA in sculpture from NYU, his career has taken some fun twists and turns along the way. Chris has designed thousands of toys over his career, and his latest project is quintessentially Hoboken: a bronze bust of Frank Sinatra that will be presented just in time for Frank’s birthday on December 12th. The Hoboken Girl was able to visit Chris in his studio at the Neumann Leather Building. Keep reading to learn more about Chris Dahlberg’s career and creative process.
Chris is originally from Madison, Connecticut, and studied classical sculpture at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts in Old Lyme, Connecticut. “As a child, I was always into horror and sci-fi. I wasn’t super into comics. It was mostly movies. I was sculpting things as a child,” he said. “I think I knew I always wanted to be a sculptor but I couldn’t really define that. I remember graduating high school and told my parents I wanted to be a sculptor and they looked at me like I had three heads. I come from a blue-collar, working family so to be a sculptor so it was like saying I was going to be an astronaut. But, that’s what brought me to fine arts. I’ve always been working with my hands.”
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At Old Lyme Academy, Chris found a very strict, traditional classic study of sculpture. “I fell in love with it. Learning anatomy, which is a life-long process: I’m fascinated by the human form and how it works,” he said. “Even the slightest movements and what shows itself in pose and in action. It’s a fascination of mine that’s carried through my life. I was lucky I was able to apply this to a commercial path.”
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He found his way to Northern New Jersey after completing his Masters in Fine Arts at Parsons School of Design. “I moved to New Jersey because of the toy industry,” he said. “I was hired by McFarlane Toys to draw Spawn. I drew, sculpted, and designed for Spawn and many other comic book characters.”
“Out of college I wanted to only be in the art world, but the toy industry was lucrative so I crossed over to the commercial side,” Chris said. “I was always dipping my toe in the more classical, traditional methods, which I still used for most of my toy career.”
“I have designed thousands of toys. When I started out with McFarlane, I was there for almost four years. I was doing Spawn, then Movie Masters stuff,” Chris said. “That’s one of the reasons why I was hired, because I sculpted from real life. It was more realistic. McFarlane started buying up horror movies’ licensing so we would do those.”
While Chris originally landed in Montclair when he started in the toy industry 28 years ago, he moved to Hoboken 20 years ago. “I just love the town,” he said. “I moved here to buy a place as an investment property to renovate and live in. I fell in love with the people, the views, and the proximity to Manhattan. I got to know a lot of the locals, especially multi-generational residents. It’s a really beautiful little town. I just enjoy being here. When I first moved here I didn’t think I’d be here more than five or six years. But I fell in love with the town.”
Chris’ studio is located in the Neumann Leather Building, which is filled with many types of artists and creatives. “Love being acquainted with different musicians, writers, sculptors, painters. Architects,” he said. “There are all kinds of creative people. There’s an abundance of very talented people. I really dig that. It’s a nice environment.”
Around the same time that Chris moved to Hoboken, he started his own toy design company with three other partners. “We worked with Mattel for almost 15 years exclusively. We redesigned the Masters of the Universe, all the DC characters for DC comics,” he said. It was a significant amount of work, he said. “Mattel has the Masters of the Universe, which is dozens and dozens of characters. The DC universe has hundreds of characters.”
In 2012 Chris went out on his own and called his company Lone Horseman. “Since I’ve been on my own I’ve worked with Dark Horse, DC Collectibles, Mattel, Wicked Cool Toys (Jazzwares), TOMI, just a bunch of different companies,” he said.
Now, Chris works with a lot of different companies, including Diamond Select Toys. He is also working with Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead. “They just released an animated series called Invincible. I’m working with Diamond to do all the action figures for that line,” Chris said. “I’ve probably done 8-10 figures now. It was a very successful first season and Amazon Prime signed him up to do three more seasons so I’m excited about that.”
Chris says, “I am super critical of my own work. So I’m excited about it while I’m working on it, but then once it’s done I shelf it. Once I come back and look at it I will always see problems with it. Any artist will probably say that. I did two statue sets for DC collectibles which were the Bat Family statue series and the Rogues’ Gallery. There are six characters in each set. The characters include Batman, Batgirl, Robin, The Joker, Mr. Freeze, Deadshot, and Catwoman. That series was a lot of fun and I was really proud at how it came out.”
The Sinatra Bust
Over time, Chris has shifted his work to rely on digital design tools. “It’s incredible what you can do,” he says. The advanced design tools combined with his classical training make for a great combination. Now, he designs almost exclusively using digital tools and uses 3-D printing to create small-scale samples of the finished works.
The Sinatra bust was created using these methods. The final product will be cast in bronze using traditional methods, but all of the work leading up to it used modern tools. “Not much in the way of sculpting has changed for thousands of years,” Chris said. “The way the products are made at the foundry is still mostly the same as the way the ancient Greeks would sculpt. But modern design tools can let you do some really cool things.”
Making a sculpture of Frank Sinatra has been a goal of Chris’ since he moved to Hoboken many years ago. “When I was living in Montclair, I met a wonderful family and they turned me on to jazz, Jackie and Roy Kral, who are musicians,” he said. “Jackie, Roy, and their daughter Danna introduced me to jazz and that type of music. They knew Frank Sinatra very well. I love the music, especially old standards. When I left Montclair and moved to Hoboken knowing that Frank Sinatra was from there, it was always in my mind that I wanted to do something about it.”
The bust will be on display at the Hoboken Historical Museum, located at 1301 Hudson Street in Hoboken. Plans are in the works to celebrate the bust’s unveiling on Sunday, December 11th at the Hoboken Historical Museum. HG will update readers when the plans are final. As for what’s next for Chris and his love for Hoboken, he has designed a sculpture of Marlon Brando that he wants to make in honor of the Hoboken Waterfront in the classic film On The Waterfront.