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Greetings From Kansas City

Film clips and heavy metal -- as in award statuettes -- hail the Hallmark Hall of Fame. The popular TV movies (like "Sarah Plain and Tall," Glenn Close's 1991 hit) have grabbed 78 Emmys in 53 years. Around the corner, kiosks screen the Hallmark ads interspersed through the broadcasts, as lavishly produced as the specials. In the theater, Martin Sheen narrates a misty 13-minute look at a retreat on a Missouri farm for Hallmark artists.

A welcome squirt of acid comes from Maxine, the senior sourpuss who stars in her own cartoon line. Her photo-op statue, stylishly attired in ball cap, bathrobe and dog slippers, admonishes her admirers with typical sass: "Ooh and ah, then move along."

Die-cutting, foil-stamping, flocking and embossing, often done by hand, turn pieces of paper into mailable art. Craftsmen demonstrate and answer questions from a workroom inside the center.

Today, 35-year veteran Richard Sumpter is cheerfully embossing gold 50th-anniversary cards in front of a tour audience. How does he like working in goldfish bowl? He laughs. "It's good when the machine works well, bad when it doesn't."

All of Hallmark's bows are made from recycled plastic. Push a button on a display window and a loop of ribbon whirls through the gears, popping out as a souvenir. Other leftovers -- including scraps of paper, foil, boxes, ribbon and melted wax -- are put to use in Kaleidoscope, the kids-only crafts center next door.

A final exhibit translates greetings into some of Hallmark's 30 languages, from Catalan to Zulu to Braille. Your chances of getting one, in a word you understand: good. The average American receives more than 20 greeting cards a year.

-- Christine H. O'Toole

The Hallmark Visitors Center is one mile south of downtown at the Crown Center Complex in Hallmark Square (off Grand Boulevard and 25th Street) in Kansas City, Mo. Free admission. Parking across the street is free with a three-hour validation from the visitors center. Details: 816-274-3613, www.hallmarkvisitorscenter.com.

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