Date started Hallmark:
St. Joseph, Missouri
Dozens of aircraft, starships and other Keepsake Ornaments adorn uncounted Christmas trees thanks to the artistic talents of Lynn Norton. Each of those ornaments owes a debt to hours of study, years of interest in the strange new worlds of speculative fiction—and coloring books.
Lynn, who logged nearly two decades with the Keepsake Studio before his retirement in 2006, says his lifelong interest in art began when he first picked up a set of crayons.
“As a child, I remember that I didn’t like the flat appearance of coloring books,” he says. “My parents tell me that I started to add shading and details to make the designs look more realistic. At some point, I was more easily entertained with blank paper so I could create my own designs.”
When Lynn begins creating a Keepsake Ornament, he researches the subject of his work until he is comfortable with his mental plan for sculpting it from beginning to end. He draws inspiration not only from his fellow Keepsake Artists but from his childhood memories of time spent in front of the TV.
“Being the first generation to be introduced to television at an early age, I was entranced by the imaginative sets and props that were constructed to bring stories to life,” Lynn says. “As crude as they were, the science-fiction artifacts of the early 1950s still inspire me—especially when I get a chance to sculpt one of them.”
That said, it may come as no surprise to learn Lynn’s personal favorite among his Keepsake Ornaments.
“I have to say that the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” space-station ornament is still my favorite. It was the most challenging sculpture for me and the Keepsake engineering staff,” he says. “My idea to offer it with docked miniature starship ornaments turned out to be a winning combination with Star Trek fans.”
A few years into his official retirement, Lynn counts himself lucky to be continuing his association with Keepsake Ornaments from his home studio in Leawood, Kansas.
“It’s been a pleasure and an inspiration to share the collectors’ passion for decorating and celebrating,” he says. “All this couldn’t have happened without them.”
Travel Air Model R “Mystery Ship” (2017)
21st in the Sky’s the Limit series
He couldn’t have known it back then, but Keepsake Artist Lynn Norton’s love of airplane model kits would eventually help his career take flight.
Lynn remembers his father building big airplane models out of balsa wood and paper in their cellar. As soon as Lynn was old enough to use tools, in the 1950s, he started building his own.
“By my early teens,” Lynn says, “I was building powered-model kits and flying them in competitive events.”
The competitions taught him to modify his airplane designs for maximum performance, which was his introduction to the kind of sculpting that he’d end up doing for Hallmark years later.
“The first ornament I sculpted was the 1991 U.S.S. Enterprise™ from the original STAR TREK™ TV series,” Lynn says. “The perfectly natural appearance of starship ornaments suspended in midair on holiday tree branches got me thinking that airplanes would also be good subjects.”
He originally set out to create a chronological history of flight, starting with 1903 and the Wright Flyer. That path toward a long line of “beige biplanes” took a turn when his wife, retired Hallmark Editor Tina Hacker, suggested he mix in some color and variety into the concepts. This eventually led to the Sky’s the Limit series.
For this ornament, the 21st in the series, he picked one of his favorites from the Travel Air Type R “Mystery Ships,” which were built secretly inside a plant in Wichita, Kansas. Their sole purpose? To win the annual National Air Races in Cleveland. This featured model did exactly that in 1929, beating the best airplanes and pilots in the country, demonstrating that sleek and aerodynamic design could defeat brute power in racing.
“Their victories set new standards for performance and paved the way for future aircraft designers to follow,” Lynn says. “And they were gorgeous machines that epitomized art deco design and styling.”
His lifelong passion for scale models continues to inform his approach to sculpting original patterns for the series. Those first model kits were little more than profile shapes sawed out of blocks of soft wood and an instruction sheet. The model builder had cut paper templates as guides to carve and sand all of the contoured shapes. Today, Lynn cuts profile shapes out of RenShape 460 (a synthetic material with wood properties), creates joints for assembling then contours the shapes with engraving tools, like a hand-held grinder, miniature lathe, and milling machine.
The resulting detail and accuracy have earned Lynn praise from pilots and airplane owners who get the ornaments as gifts. Lynn says they often become “accidental collectors,” finding that they can hardly wait for the next model to take off from the Keepsake Studio’s runway.