One local artist has been able to combine cherished memories of her own into a gift she can share with others by creating hand-painted Christmas ornaments.

“My love of Christmas ornaments started back in 1999, when I was in high school and decided to paint my sister’s beloved horse, Mario, on a golden glass ball. Every year, my sister, Jessica, hangs that ball like it’s worth a million dollars, along with the many I have done for over the years,” says Gretchen Dibler, a self-taught painter who lives in Kitty Hawk with her husband, Chris, and 10-year-old son, Gavin. “I can honestly say I never would have known the impact that a personalized ornament would have on someone’s’ life. Jess was definitely the reason I started — and keep painting — personalized pet ornaments.”

Each personalized ornament begins with a 1-inch thick, 4-inch wide clear glass round and flat ornament. She works from photos provided by each client.

“Over the years, I have been able to perfect my pet portraits and home portraits and found that these glass ornaments are the best way to capture the subject without making it look distorted and misshaped,” she says.

Each custom keepsake is $50 for a single image, or $75 if the client requests multiple subjects on one ornament. There is no shipping fee, if the order is greater than $50.

Delivery by Christmas is guaranteed, if the order is placed by Dec. 1.

“I typically say the turn around time is approximately two weeks, give or take. I know there will always be late orders, so I try to allot time for them, as well. Regardless, I will have them done if there is a deadline, such as Christmas,” she says. “I have spent many late nights completing orders so that everyone has their special gift on Christmas morning.”

Dibler moved with her family to the Outer Banks from the Pittsburgh area when she was 3.

“I have been very fortunate to have horses in Kitty Hawk at my childhood home where my father still resides. My mom had horses long before my sister and I were even thought of, and she passed that passion onto us,” Dibler says, adding the family matriarch lost her battle with cancer in April 2016. “She was always my biggest fan and said I could do anything I wanted with the talent I had in artwork. She used to go to all of art shows with me and supported me from behind the scenes.”

Dibler hasn’t participated in any local artisan events since her mother’s death, but she’s been affiliated with Absolutely Outer Banks since 2015.

The shop has two locations — in the Outer Banks Mall in Nags Head (5000 S. Croatan Hwy.) and in the Scarborough Faire Shopping Village in Duck (1177 Duck Road). But before the end of the year, owners Debra Halahurich and Robert Privott plan to consolidate both locations into one store at 3708 N. Croatan Hwy., Suite 4, Kitty Hawk, in space formerly occupied by Diamond N Dunes.

“Deb and Bob have been a blessing to me,” Dibler says.

At the Outer Banks-centric art shop, it’s evident that Dibler’s work extends beyond the 1-inch by 4-inch ornament: She paints on everything from the smallest of sea glass pieces to large canvases spanning 6 feet or larger.

“I can paint most subjects, aside from people,” she says. “I always refer customers who want people- portraits to my friend and fellow artist, Gretchen Hargis, because she can paint people beautifully.”

Dibler says the decision to create hand-painted ornaments featuring pets stems from her lifelong love of animals, a gift passed on from mother to daughter.

“Just loving Christmas, in general, makes it easy to combine my love of painting and animals into a memory of a lifetime,” Dibler says. “I am absolutely obsessed with anything Christmas. I have already started putting up my trees... I have four in total. I have three artificial and one live tree we pick out as a family every year. We are huge on family and being with one and other, and to me that’s what the holidays are for.”

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