Retired Hallmark Artist
Started at Hallmark:
Started at Keepsakes:
Kansas City, Missouri
Grew up in
The smaller the project, the more Dill Rhodus tries to flesh out the details. Dill enjoys making miniatures. But he finds they take even more attention than their larger counterparts.
His Keepsake Miniature Ornaments have included Bright Boxers and Busy Bear. Other projects include work on the “PEANUTS®” Keepsake Magic Collectible Series and Keepsake Magic Ornament Unicorn Family, still his favorite ornament.
“I especially enjoyed Bright Boxers, a 1991 Keepsake Miniature Ornament showing Santa Claus in his underwear. It took some doing to get that design accepted into the line, but people really got a kick out of it,” Dill says.
Derek Jeter (2002)
Artist Dill Rhodus was in “hog heaven” on that beautiful New York Morning. In two hours he’d be at Yankee Stadium to meet one of his heroes—Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter.
Dill had come to the city with a Keepsake Ornament sculpture of Jeter. He needed the All-Star slugger and Gold Glove winner’s approval before it could go into full production.
Dill had been sculpting sports figures since 1995, and getting the required licensing approvals was among the many challenges of his job. His Jeter sculpture had already been blessed by Major League Baseball. The New York Yankees organization had signed off on it as well—and the Yankees are very picky about the way their classic uniforms are depicted. Recreating, in miniature, the Yankee’s thin pinstripe pattern was especially difficult, Dill says.
But Jeter’s okay was the most crucial. To make athletes happy, Dill’s sculptures have to reflect the thrilling action of professional sports. Even more important, he has to capture an athlete’s likeness and expression.
“To create a recognizable face in three dimensions, I have to research it from all different angles and directions,” Dill explains. “and Derek Jeter was especially challenging. He’s handsome, but he has a very unusual face.”
Dill based his sculpture of Jeter’s face on more than ten different photographs. He relied on about five photos to render the pose for Jeter’s body—depicting him in a typical infielder’s position of running down a fly ball.
When he’d first arrived in New York City, Dill had met Jeter’s agent, who’d like the ornament. Just in case Jeter didn’t agree, Dill had brought all his wax-sculpting tools along. But as Dill was settling into his hotel room in midtown Manhattan the night before his appointment with Jeter, the agent phoned to say he’d been able to show the ornament to Jeter. Bottom line—the star loved it and had given it his blessing.
So now, with the pressure off, all Dill had to do was meet Jeter at 11 a.m. and watch a baseball game as a guest. For a self-described sports nut, “It was a dream come true.” He had a quick breakfast that morning and was going back to his hotel to get ready for his meeting when he looked down Madison Avenue toward the south end of Manhattan and saw a huge plume of smoke. It was just after 9 a.m.
“I’m a real country boy,” Dill says. “My first thought was, ‘Man, they sure have a lot of air pollution here.’ Then I saw a flash. That turned out to be the second plan hitting the south tower.”
At that moment—on Sept. 11, 2001—the lighthearted business of baseball and Christmas ornaments became insignificant. There’d be no relaxed afternoon at the ballpark, no meeting with Jeter.
Though he was just a few miles from Ground Zero—the scene of unbelievable tragedy and destruction—Dill was able to get only heresay information about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in those early minutes. He went back to his hotel room and phoned his wife, Patricia Andrews, who was then also a Keepsake artist. He was glad he did. “Everyone back at Hallmark was going nuts with worry,” he says.
Later that morning, he went to Jeter’s agency to pick up his ornament and the licensing approval. It would be three days before Dill and two other Hallmarkers, in town on other business, were able to rent a car. They drove straight through from New York City to Kansas City.
Though Dill officially retired in 2004, he can look back on a sculpting career that began in 1987 and includes many popular ornaments and achievements. He even went back to New York City a year after the terrorist attacks for approval on a sculpture of Jason Giambi (2002), another Yank star.
But when asked what his most memorable ornament is, Dill has only to relive that traumatic September morning, and the answer—Derek Jeter (2002)—is obvious.