Artist creates ornaments out of walnuts

December 06, 2000

Artist creates ornaments out of walnuts


photos: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

Cameron MacKenzieHALFWAY - Cameron MacKenzie sums up the Christmas season in a nutshell.

The Halfway resident adds tiny Santas, snowflakes and stockings to the inside of halved walnut shells to create unique holiday ornaments.


Armed with an Exacto knife, Dremel tool, dental instruments, tweezers, glue, paint and a magnifying glass, MacKenzie meticulously cracks, scrapes and hinges his walnut shells before filling them with everything from teeny trains to super-small snowmen.

A bowl of walnuts inspired MacKenzie's craft back in 1978.

While cracking nuts from the bowl at a holiday gathering, he said, he realized that he could fill the empty shells with seasonal scenes.


He began making ornaments for his family and friends, who told others about his unusual talent. The word spread, and MacKenzie this season will create and sell about five dozen signed and dated walnut shell ornaments, he said.

Walnut ornamentsOne of his ornaments graced a Christmas tree in the main hall of the Smithsonian Institution's American History Museum two years ago after it won a national contest sponsored by Family Circle magazine.

One half of that shell held a minute Kris Kringle standing on a roof with a satchel of gifts, while the other side enveloped a wee Christmas tree.

Some shells hold ornate outdoor scenes that MacKenzie crafts from such materials as foam rubber, hot glue, textured "snow" paint and an assortment of miniatures that he finds everywhere from model train shops to catalogues.

Other shells hold nativity scenes, skiers descending slopes and paper silhouettes that the artist whittles with a scalpel.

"It's the only thing with a fine enough, sharp enough point to get into the little nooks and crannies," said MacKenzie, 47.

It takes the artist about two hours to complete one ornament, and the process sometimes gets tedious because MacKenzie avoids repeating the same designs, he said.

To accommodate customers' special requests, he must sometimes seek walnuts with specific dimensions, and he's always on the look-out for prime shells.

"Every time I go to the grocery store I stop and look at the walnuts," MacKenzie said.

He can often be found shoveling through supermarket bulk nut bins for shells of just the right shape.

"That's gotten me some strange looks," he said.

Or he might be found picking through piles of walnuts in search of shells that will break naturally in three segments.

"Those are the oddball walnuts," he said. "They're not easy to find."

Neither are baubles like MacKenzie's walnut shell ornaments.

"As far as I know, they're totally unique," he said. "I'm an accumulator of the strange and unusual."

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