WESTBROOK, Minnesota (STPNS) -- WALNUT GROVE — Betty Kassel passes away some of her spare time painting Christmas ornaments on black walnut biscuits. She started making them as a hobby in 1987.
She got the idea of making the ornaments from Ethel Nordsiden and sold them at Ellen Thoma’s gift shop.
Kassel said, “When Ethel quit making them I thought I would try making them myself.” Kassel’s husband Ron started cutting the black walnut branches into biscuits for her to paint. The branches come from walnut trees on some of their land by Plum Creek.
She continued selling them there until Ellen closed her shop. When Wilder Museum director Shirley Knakmuhs saw the ornaments she said, “I think we could sell those in the museum.” So Kassel began making the ornaments, that have a log cabin scene inscribed with Plum Creek, Walnut Grove, MN and the year they were made. She makes about 500 of the ornaments a year more or less.
Kassel says, “I have enjoyed art since I was in school.” She uses acrylic paint to do her ornaments, and does the lettering using a fine point permanent marker.
She does the ornaments in an assembly line method. One of the things she likes is that they are all unique in their shape, and since they are all done by hand each is painted a little different to accommodate the shape.
Kassel says she also enjoys water color painting, and occasionally attends Gold College (formerly senior college) at SWSU in Marshall to take various art classes.
Kassel says she likes the portability of the ornaments, so she can work on them when she is away from home. She can even work on them when she is in the car waiting. She even did them at baseball tournaments that her husband Ron umpired at.
This year she had a request from Kathy Schweim Resource Development Director at Good Samaritan in Westbrook to make ornaments for their annual Giving Tree fund raiser. She made about seventy of the ornaments with the date and the words Noel printed on them.
Kassel says to break the monotony of the painting, she often listens to audio books while she is working on them.
She says she has been told she should consider starting a business making ornaments. But she doesn’t want her hobby to turn into work. “I really enjoy doing this now, but if it were a business it wouldn’t be so fun to do,” she said.
The ornaments are available in the Wilder Museum Gift Shop.
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