Artist Profile: Don Palmiter

Hallmark Senior Artist

Started at Hallmark:

Started at Keepsakes:

Kansas City, Missouri

Palmiter says growing up he loved art, but it wasn’t until his senior year of high school in 1967 that he knew he’d make art his career. At that time, Hallmark actively recruited seniors. One week after graduation, Palmiter was producing and embossing greeting cards. By the mid 1970s, he made the jump to sculpting.

Then, in 1987 Palmiter was thrilled to make the move to the Keepsake Ornament division. He quickly realized there were few men among the avid ornament enthusiasts. The reason? There was nothing masculine in the offering. Palmiter began to wonder what men would be enthusiastic enough about to start collecting. He needed to look no further than his own first love: cars.

Don Palmiter first got behind the wheel of his brother’s pedal car at age 2.

“It was a 1948 Steel Craft Pontiac® station wagon. Burgundy with cream trim,” he says with the warmth and emotion usually relegated to describing an old flame. It’s a passion that has earned him the reputation around Hallmark and with ornament enthusiasts as “The Car Guy.”  Today that car guy goes to conventions and auctions. He even has his share of impulse purchases. But Don has never actually restored a car. Instead, he sculpts Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments. He says it’s a better investment.

Three years after presenting his idea, the American Classic Car Series was launched with tremendous success. Palmiter decided that he needed to pay homage to his first car, that 1948 Steel Craft Pontiac® station wagon pedal car. So in 1992, the beloved Hallmark Kiddie Car Classics collection was originally introduced. It consisted of miniature, die-cast metal replicas of full-sized pedal cars that were produced from the 1920s through the 1960s. The popular line quickly expanded to include Don’s Customs, Sidewalk Cruisers, accessories, ornaments and more.

But in 2001, the Kiddie Car Classics program was retired, and it’s been greatly missed ever since. So after 15 years, the line was relaunched for Father’s Day 2015 with four new versions of popular Kiddie Car Classics designs, as well as a coordinating Keepsake Ornament for each.

“I travel to signing events all over the country,” Palmiter says. “People will show me pictures of the pedal cars they had as children and then have me sign that exact replica. They are thrilled that I have created an ornament from ‘their’ car. I can’t tell you how much I thoroughly enjoy that.”

Don’s Ornament Gallery
Don’s Ornament List


Don’s Street Rod (2015)
Kiddie Car Classics

This ornament is a repaint of an original Kiddie Car Classics design that was part of the line called Don’s Customs.

Don’s Street Rod

“In ‘95 we actually built a full-size pedal car that looked exactly like it. I could even sit in it, pedal and drive. It’s now in a pedal car museum in Elkhart, Indiana,” Don said.

For the relaunch, the Street Rod’s body color was changed to a more modern satin black and the flames were updated to match.

1965 Ford Mustang (2015)
Kiddie Car Classics

Although Don enjoys designing his own custom pedal cars, he takes a lot of pride in reproducing exact duplicates of historic pedal cars like this one.

1965 Ford Mustang

“I would go to great lengths to make sure everything was exact. I would travel all over the country and meet with pedal car collectors and restorers,” Don said.

“I would take at least a hundred photos of each one, and I would go through and measure and document everything. The result was a high quality product that looked just like the real thing.”

When choosing the color for this repaint, Don and the team looked at original Ford Mustang colors to capture the essence of the real cars.

1958 Custom Corvette (2015)
Kiddie Car Classics

Although this custom design is based on a real Corvette, it was never an actual pedal car. Don decided to create this pedal car design because the ’58 model is one of his favorites and he hoped other people would love it as much as he did —and they really did!

“After the original came out, Kiddie Car Classic collectors and Corvette enthusiasts were all over it,” Don said. “I was even asked to speak at Corvette club events.”

1958 Custom Corvette

On the relaunch version, Don chose to reverse the colors from the original. So instead of a red car with a white accent, it’s a white car with red sides and red seats. “It looks really cool,” he said, “and I like it every bit as much as the first one.”

1968 Ford Ranchero GT (2014)
20th in the All-American Truck series

1968 Ford Ranchero GT
20th in the All-American Truck series

Don Palmiter has spent many years studying, sculpting and perfecting the details in his hand-crafted trucks. This year marks the All-American Truck series’ 20th anniversary, and so Don selected a model that had evaded him in the past.

Don explains, “I work with an editor who is also a car lover, and we choose the trucks that we are going to do, but the Ranchero is not your typical pickup truck. It’s more of a modified station wagon pickup, but the pickups have a dedicated following. Ford quit making the Ranchero sometime around the ’70s, and so this ornament captures that part of truck history. I want the series to have a variety. I don’t want it all to be the same kind of pickup.”

Advertisements from the 1950s consistently place the Ranchero in a Southwestern setting, but they weren’t meant for heavy-duty use. “It’s not a rugged pickup truck. It’s more finessed,” Don says. “It’s more for a country gentleman, not a work truck.”

Don chose a color scheme to reflect the Ranchero’s breezy personality, completing the look with white sidewall tires—certainly not typical of your everyday pickup!

Stately Victorian (2013)
30th in the Nostalgic Houses and Shops series

“I try to incorporate a personal story or surprise into every Keepsake Ornament that I create, whether it’s an Italian restaurant named after a dear friend or a piece of furniture based on one of my own antiques. This ornament has its own story that I think collectors will really appreciate. If you look inside, there is a tiny replica of the very first ornament from the Nostalgic Houses and Shops series—a brightly painted Victorian House tucked right underneath the Christmas tree. There is a lot to be excited about in 2013 for fans of this series, but I don’t want to spoil any surprises just yet!”

Stately Victorian
30th in the NH&S series

News About Don Palmiter