Nancy Hilton has sold almost 300 hand-painted Christmas ornaments since she began making them four years ago.
Each year Hilton makes about 120 ornaments, many of which have painted scenes from Mount Airy. She said it takes her between one and two hours to make one, which she finishes with her signature.
Pine Grove Chapel and the Twin Arch Bridge are a few of the town’s historic landmarks depicted on last year’s ornaments.
“They’re all done free hand.... The challenge is producing something like a building on something that is round. That’s what really takes all the time, the details,” Hilton said. “You really have to concentrate.”
Hilton, 68, of Mount Pleasant, has used Calvary United Methodist Church, at 403 S. Main St., and the Flatiron Building, a triangular building at Park Avenue and South Main Street, along with other historic buildings as inspiration for ornament scenes.
In addition to small glass bulbs, this year Hilton is making bigger bulbs and crafting ornaments that look like churches from watercolor paper. As of Sunday, Hilton still had about 70 more ornaments to make before the start of the season.
“People [were] asking me to paint the old buildings [on the ornaments]... and it just grew from there,” she said, her hand resting on one of her recently made ornaments.
A boy pulling a sled on a snowy night in front of the former Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Station in Mount Airy is depicted on the glass bulb.
“My husband always says ‘In a hundred years from now [“Antiques Roadshow”] will say that ornament was painted by Nancy Hilton,” she said with a smile. “I start in January [making them].”
Hilton discovered her talent for making the painted ornaments while recovering from hip-replacement surgery in 2008. Hilton said she needed the surgery due to damage suffered during radiation treatments for cancer.
She is now in remission.
Hilton, who owned Blossom and Basket Boutique in Mount Airy for about six years, said a friend gave her a box of glass bulbs while she was on bed rest.
“So she brought them over and said ‘here paint these,’” Hilton said. “To get me doing something, and I enjoyed it, so that’s how I got started.”
In about 2003, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, Hilton decided to sell the shop, she said.
Now Hilton sells her ornaments at a few craft shows and shops, including her former shop at 3 N. Main St., where they are usually sold for about $25.
Ellie Bonde, current owner of the Blossom and Basket Boutique, said that the Pine Grove ornaments Hilton sold last year were especially popular with one customer.
“I had a man who came in whose wife was buried in Pine Grove cemetery,” she said. "He bought seven of [the ornaments] for his children."
Bonde said she usually starts selling the ornaments in October for about $25. Hilton also sells the ornaments each November at an annual craft show in Burkittsville and at the Turn The Page bookstore in Boonsboro.
“I just can’t make enough,” Hilton said. “I don’t get many leftovers each year. Last year I had five or six left out of 100.... I enjoy making [things] people can enjoy as little gifts.”