Ken CrowShop Now
Title: Master Artist
Date started at Hallmark: 1979
Date started at Keepsakes: 1983
Hometown: Long Beach, California
Most of us doodled in our notebooks during high school, but Ken Crow’s drawings were a real learning experience. In his 11th grade history class, he discovered that his pictures were worth a thousand words. History teacher, Mr. Ciriello, began letting Ken use creative illustration instead of taking class notes.
During a civil war lesson, Ken drew battle scenes. When Ciriello explained how an economy works, Ken sketched his teacher running a treadmill turning the cogs of an economic engine.
Ken calls Mr. Ciriello’s encouragement the “green light” for his ability to express his artistic sensibility. Ken always understood the power of communicating ideas through art, and he became an editorial cartoonist for a newspaper. Now he conveys a sense of history and emotion in the expressive and complex work he does with Keepsake Ornaments.
In 2005, Ken created the magical Keepsake Ornament City Sidewalks. Christmas comes to life in this bustling city scene. As the shoppers move about the snow-covered sidewalks, a trolley and cab pass by on the street. The lights in the buildings and on the town’s Christmas tree glow softly. Each time you press the bells on the front of the base, you’ll hear the music for a verse and then the chorus of the popular Christmas song “Silver Bells” (they alternate each time you press the bells). You’ll also hear various city noises and even Santa’s jolly voice in the background.
But how did Ken go from drawing to becoming an expert in mechanical Christmas ornaments? As a child, he tore apart every toy he ever had to see how it worked. He even made other toys out of the spare parts. For Ken, Keepsake Ornaments will forever keep him connected with that inquisitive kid inside.
2015 Keepsake Ornaments
Hallmark Keepsake Lionel® Toymaker Santa Express Electric Train Set
Inspired by the Toymaker Santa series
When Ken Crow’s manager asked him to make a full-size, electric Lionel toy train, Ken thought it might be…well, Christmas morning. Ken told his manager: “You know what? There really is a Santa Claus.”
To Ken, the project immediately felt like the culmination of all of his talents, interests, and experiences in his 30-plus years working on Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments.
“Whenever I retire, this will be one of the top five things I’ve ever done here at Hallmark,” Ken said. “What am I doing in my life that’s going to last 3 generations? Hopefully, this is the thing that Grandma and Grandpa will pass down through the generations.”
An artist by nature and by trade, Ken has also long nurtured a fascination with mechanical things. When he was little, he broke open his brother’s Mickey Mouse watch with a vise just to see how it worked. He also has fond memories of a live-steamer train that his dad’s friend built in his backyard.
Ken has worked on Keepsake Ornament Lionel trains before—but never a functioning O-gauge version. “I was born to do this,” Ken said.
When he started working on the project, he spent time in train stores talking to customers. Among other things, they told him it should be substantial and be able to pull several train cars. The finished product, inspired by the Toymaker Santa series, features a metal die-cast engine with a bell, a horn, the classic steam-locomotive “chuff” sound and a stack that puffs out perfect little donut-shaped rings of smoke.
“It’s the most traditional Christmas train set I could bring out of my mind,” Ken said.
For a project of this scope, Ken appreciated working with a team. His engineering partners pushed him to make it better and his Editor, Mike Brush, found just the right words to place along the sides of the cars as well as the phrases Santa speaks. Ken said Mike also suggested Ken’s name should be on the back of the engine.
“I can’t wait for people to open up their train sets and put it under the tree,” Ken said. “I can’t wait to open up my own box!”
3rd in the Santa Certified series
What if Santa picked his favorite toys and then wrote his signature on each one of them, telling the world that these toys have his official seal of approval? That’s the idea behind the Santa Certified series ornaments.
Or, in Ken’s words, “They should look like the toys Santa would put on the shelf at his workshop and say, ‘Yes, these are the coolest toys we make.’”
Ken has worked on all three of the ornaments in the series. The first two featured a toy train engine and a jack-in-the-box. Ken said the challenge with this rocking horse ornament was to figure out something that hadn’t been done before. “I didn’t want to just make another horse,” Ken said.
Ken decided that he wanted to make the horse appear as if it were made from wood. And even though the horse rests on a glider, Ken wanted to create the illusion that it was galloping across a bridge. “I really wanted to make it look like the horse is galloping through a Christmas forest.”