Ken Crow

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Keepsake Artist Ken Crow

Ken Crow signature

Ken Crow

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.

Mickey’s Magical Railroad

Disney Mickey Mouse

Ken Crow has loved trains and Mickey Mouse for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Long Beach, California, not far from Disneyland, and he recalls riding the train that circles the park. Today he surrounds his work space with Mickey Mouse phones and other classic Disney memorabilia, so it seemed inevitable that trains and Mickey would come together as one of his ornaments.

“I just love trains, and I started thinking: what’s something fun we could do with Mickey this time?” Ken said. “Let’s put him in a train engine! So I tried to hark back to the one at Disneyland.”

He teamed up with longtime collaborator Ron Carlson, an engineer, to come up with a Magic design. First task: make it move!

“I love mechanical things and the train engine is almost like a character,” Ken said. “It’s animated. It wants to go somewhere and do things.”

 

Using Ken’s concept, Ron began figuring out ways of connecting the wheels with pushrods, then sending that motion up through the throttle, Mickey’s arm, the smokestack and the bell. But it’s not only those components that make the train look like it’s in motion. “I didn’t just sculpt it in right angles; everything kind of bends,” Ken says. “I tried very hard to make it look animated even when it isn’t. That quality is very Disney-like.”

Each project presents interesting new challenges. But Ken’s philosophy remains the same, “What is the greatest number of neat things you can use that would excite someone? So don’t just make the smoke for the smokestack; make it go up and down and look like it’s puffing.”

Fun Trivia

Ken designed a hidden Mickey on the bottom of the train, using extra holes from the speaker component.

Mickey is voiced by Bret Iwan, who used to be an illustrator at Hallmark.

Jingle All the Way

Ken’s dad always reminded him of Santa Claus. A kind encourager, Robert Crow was the first person to go to the card shop when one of Ken’s ornaments debuted, asking in amazement, “Ken, how do you do that?” Robert passed away five years ago, and Ken always wishes he could show him each year’s new designs.

So when Ken began to work on concepts for this family-inspired ornament, starting with Santa made perfect sense. He then filled the rest of the “canvas” with vignettes of his wife, two children, their dog and even himself as a child.

“I remember carolers outside the door and my wife, Linda, handing out cookies,” Ken says. “There are so many memories of decorating the tree with my kids. And going to the toy store with my mom when I was a kid.”

Those memories are represented in the various scenes, which rotate as the horse and sleigh move up and down along the wintry base. As with Mickey’s Magical Railroad, Ken worked with Ron to figure out how to make the motion look surprising. “He always encourages me to try things that at first seem hard to imagine,” Ken says of Ron. “He made my dreams come out of my head!”

To light the rotating scenes, they embedded small spotlights in the street lamps. “We wanted to illuminate the front like you’re sitting in a theater,” Ken says. Ken also knew he wanted to get as much use out of the “Jingle Bells” theme as they could. So they added the lyrics to the classic song along the base.

Calling the Magic ornaments that feature light, music and/or sound “brain busters,” Ken has been working on them since 1985. “And if I could choose one ornament to represent all the coolest things I’ve done, this would be it.”

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