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Vaillancourt Folk Art

VFA Chalkware

Vaillancourt Folk Art is one of the remaining high-quality collections that are made in America. In the rolling hills of Massachusetts, you’ll find the Vaillancourts and about 30 artisans hard at working purchasing & pouring new chalkware molds, handpainting the chalkware pieces, and answering collectors and dealers questions and queries. The Christmas House is a Master Dealer, a term used for dealers who have a large collection of the chalkware pieces and a knowledgeable staff to assist you. A highlight of each season is the release of that year’s Starlight Santa which supports the Starlight Children’s Foundation. This year’s piece is a Santa seated in a blue chair with a very cute tree design on it. The 2008 Starlight retails for $160.00 In the next year, we hope to have photos of the collection on line as we carry not just the new pieces, but many older pieces that are difficult to find. We also occasionally act as a broker for our customers who have pieces that they wish to sell or for pieces that they are looking to purchase.

The Vaillancourt Story

“When Gary Vaillancourt gave his wife, Judi, a gift of three antique chocolate molds in 1984, neither of them knew it woud signal the start of a new family business. In the yeras since, Judi’s collection has grown to more than 3,000 vintage molds---one of hte largest collections in the world. She uses her molds to make hand-painted collectible chalkeware figures for all major holidays—especially Christmas.

Today, Vaillancourt Folk Art (VFA) is one of America’s last remaining Christmas ornaments and collectibles makers. Unlike most Christmas collectibles, which are manufactured overseas, Vaillancourt chalkware figures are still made by hand at teh VFA studio in Sutton, Mass. Visitors can tour behind-the-scenes as artists hand-pain more thann 300 different versions of Santa Claus and Father Christmas Figures.

Judi’s chocolate molds date to the nineteenth century, when a gift of chocolate was a special treasure and every small European village had a chocolate shop. Chocolate was molded in all shapes and sizes—bunnies for Easter and St. Nicholas, snowmen, and angels for Christmas. The mold-makers were skilled artisans who sculpted beautiful details into their molds and lovingly passed their craft and their molds down through the generations.

Fascinated by the exquisite workmanship in her antique molds, Judi, an artist by training, filled them with a plaster-lik substance and hand-painted the resulting “chalkware”. The finished products were stunning. By painting the figureines, Judi had unlocked the mold-makers’ intricate artistry, bringing it to life as never before.

While the mold-makers’ palette had been limited---quite literally---to chocolate brown, Judi’s colors brought the figures to life. Particularly compelling are the handpainted eyes on the faces of each figure, which display a richness of emotion completely hidden when the pieces were molded in chocolate.

Captivated by the nostalgic charm of these Victorian-era figurines, collectors began snapping then up as fast as they could be painted, and a unique new business was launched.

Among Vaillancourt Folk Art’s confectionary molds (chocolate, ice cream molds and barley candy molds) are many made by famed mold-maker Anton Reiche, whose factory in Dresden, Germany was founded in 1870. The work of Reiche artists and sculptors was of the highest level---similar in excellence to that of artists at Germany’s famous Meissen and Dresden porcelain factories, which were nearby.

Judi meticulously researches the history of each mold and identifies its country of origin. She also paints the first piece of any new VFA chalkware line. The painting studio consists of 30 staff artists, 12 of whom work year-round to produce the hand-painted, limited edition figurines offered by VFA. The studio is housed in an antique farmhouse in the quaint town of Sutton, Mass (see Update below). The attached retail shop, Vaillancourt Folk Art & Friends, displays all of teh Vaillancourt collectibles and also sells artwork by some of the best known folk artists in the country.

VFA artists produce hand-made figurines for Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween, but Christmas remains Vaillancourt’s signature season. In 1997, VFA added a collection of exquisite German glass Christmas ornaments based on its popular chalkware and designed as companion pieces ot the chalkware figures.

How did such a thriving business grow from the simple gift of three antique chocolate molds? Was it luck? Artistic talent? Entrepreneurial savvy? Judi agrees that these qualities are only part of hte story, adding, “Holidays make people long for the past. They want to hold onto memories of simpler, more sentimental times. Our figures help them do just that. They evoke nostalgia for the past while becoming the heirlooms of the future.”

The Update: The Vaillancourt Story Continues…

In May of 2006, Vaillancourt announced the relocation of their business to a historic 1826 textile mill. Although they are still located in Sutton, they are in one of two small villages, known as Manchaug. The new location has 10,000 square feet of room in a granite building and it has allowed VFA to move all of it’s business under one roof. Manchaug Mills is now incorporated into the signing of all of the VFA chalkware originals, making the pieces produced at Armsby Road in Sutton a part of history. Their spring 2006 newsletter announced the relocation stating that “The most exciting part of the move will be the availability of expanded studio tours and a Vaillancourt Museum. The additional space will allow tours of the studio, a walk-through of our 22 year history, and our exciting new shop concept”.

The Story of the Starlight Santa

(as taken from a press release on the VFA website) “It’s tough to be sick at Christmas time, and for seriously ill children who must spend a lot of time in the hospital throughout the year, it’s even tougher. To help them, one Massachusetts company each year creates a special ‘Starlight Santa’ figurine to raise money for the Starlight Children’s Foundation. These Starlight Santas are made only through Christmas Eve, when the mold is retired.

The result? Collectors clamor for the limited edition figurines made by Vaillancourt Folk Art—especially the low-numbered ones. Over the past 17 years,” (2008 will represent their 19th year), “Vaillancourt Starlight Santas have raised enough money to fulfill more than 103 wishes and fund 14 VCR and video game “Fun Center” mobile entertainment units for children in the hospital. These units are particularly effective in reducing children’s pain.

‘By granting wishes and providing distractive entertainment, we try to give these seriously ill children a reason to smile’, notes Victoria Kelley, executive director of Starlight Children’s Foundation of New England, based in Boston. ‘Studies show taht our programs reduce pain and the need for pain medication’.

The Starlight Santas are made from artist Judi Vaillancourt’s collection of 3,000 rare chocolate molds at the Vaillancourt Folks Art studio. To make the figurines, artists fill the antique chocolate molds with a plaster-like substance, and hand-paint the resulting “chalkware”. It takes 16 artists three weeks to complete each figure.

Collector’s Weekend

Collectors Weekend…an event not to be missed whether you are a new VFA collector or a veteran. The weekend is generally held on a weekend in late April or early May and is filled with seminars, painting workshops, mingling with other collectors, the release of the much sought-after “Collector’s Weekend Santa” and a charity auction and dinner.