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.

Santa’s Magic Train Keepsake Ornament

Santa’s Magic Train Keepsake Ornament

When asked what was the most important thing he wanted to bring to the design of this magic ornament, Ken’s answer was, “Storytelling, storytelling, storytelling!” Ken hoped that the story he conveyed through the artistry would bring people back to a wonderful moment that made them smile. “Because I can’t be there in person to do that,” he said, “I see my work as translating that happy moment to you through the ornament.”

The little houses and buildings featured elves loading toys onto Santa’s train. And to really make this ornament about Christmas day—because Santa and his elves build toys all year—Ken placed Santa with his bag of toys to be delivered in a miniature, reindeer-powered sleigh at the top of the ornament.

Ken tried to put himself in Santa’s place as he approached the design of the Santa’s Magic Train Keepsake Ornament. “I put myself in his boots. In the same way I want to make people happy through building ornaments, Santa wants to make people happy by making the best toys. With that in mind, I wanted to represent some of the coolest things you might find under the tree on Christmas morning.”

For Ken, the coolest gift he got for Christmas was—surprise!—a train set. In fact, it was two train sets! “Because we had double the trains, double the little buildings, and double the little cars and stuff to play with, I took every single thing apart just to see how it was made and what was inside. That knowledge has served me well, even today, when I make ornaments.”

Steamboat Willie Keepsake Ornament

Steamboat Willie Keepsake Ornament

The Steamboat Willie Keepsake Ornament commemorates two historic landmark moments of animation. It depicts Disney’s Mickey Mouse in his first film, and it’s also the first cartoon with synchronized sound, which made silent animation obsolete.

“I think it’s cool that Mickey is animated in 3-D on top and also in 2-D in the animation cells that rotate around the base,” said Ken. He especially appreciated the antique movie studio vibe, with its flashing lights and audio from the original cartoon. And Mickey pilots the steamboat just as skillfully now as he did 90 years ago!

To get started on a piece like this, Ken will make a rough sketch, then describe the action and how the pieces and parts will work together. “A lot of the things I work on start out as a rough idea, and by the time I reach the end, I’m way beyond that original idea. I like to figure it out and make it better than I imagined the further I get into it.”

Off We Go! Keepsake Ornament

Off We Go! Keepsake Ornament

Featuring two of the dwarfs from the Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this ornament lights up and plays music from the song “Heigh-Ho.”

“I really do like Dopey and Grumpy in the mine car, because Grumpy is a big reason why I started out as an artist,” Ken related.

Growing up fifteen miles away from Disneyland, Ken’s parents would take him there often. “I’m almost exactly the same age as Disneyland,” he confided.

On one fateful visit, Ken was sitting on the curb when Snow White and the Dwarfs walked by. “Grumpy stepped on my foot! I was amazed that a three-dimensional, animated Disney character could touch me. It was like a movie character stepping out and actually grabbing my hand and saying, ‘Come on in here, let’s have some fun.’ And so working on this brings me all the way back to when I was a little guy at Disneyland. That was tons of fun!”

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