About Vaillancourt Folk Art of Sutton, Massachusetts
In 1984, when Judi Vaillancourt received a gift from her husband, Gary, neither of them would know what would have become of it. But, thirty years later, families around the globe celebrate the tradition of Vaillancourt chalkware.
A Brief History of 30 Years of Traditions
Gary and Judi Vaillancourt established Vaillancourt Folk Art in 1984, when Judi, a classically trained artist with a passion for antiques and Christmas, adapted the Victorian art form of chalkware with her own process; pouring liquid chalk into vintage confectionery moulds and hand painting the resulting three-dimensional blank canvas with oil paints. Her new works were quick to sell out when taken to Folk Art craft fairs around the country. Seeing this potential, Gary quit his job in high-tech to focus on this new passion. Together, they set up a studio in their circa 1700s house; the kitchen was used for pouring, the dining room for painting, and the bedrooms for shipping. Within a few months, the demand had grown (as did their need to get their kitchen back) and their basement was transformed into their new studios to accommodate 10 employees. A few short years later, Gary and Judi had to expand again, this time opening a retail gallery in a 1820s farmhouse located a few short miles from their home. Fueled by ‘80s Americana craze, the gallery regularly featured American artists like Christopher LaMontagne, Judie Tasch, and Tasha Tudor in their retail store and received Hollywood support from the likes of Tom Bergeron and Emma Samms.
The business was thriving during this time period and caught the eyes of overseas manufacturers. As knockoffs began to surface in the early 1990s, Judi’s solution wasn’t to compete with price (a futile decision many artists in similar situations chose to do), but to increase both price and quality. “It was very hard pressed for an American company to compete with the price of Chinese manufacturing, but there was no way they could touch our detail and fine art quality,” Gary Vaillancourt said.
A true family business from the start (Gary and Judi’s parents were among the first hired employees) the tradition continues with their son, Luke, having joined the company in 2007 to propagate the company’s digital footprint. In a post 9-11 world, the marketplace had dramatically changed. “Hundreds of small mom-and-pop shoppes had closed their doors and the large department stores had changed how they were buying,” Gary Vaillancourt said. “In order to adapt to the industry, we had to focus on growing our online distribution while refining the tangible experience of shopping in our retail store.” Concurrently with Luke joining the company, Vaillancourt Folk Art moved, yet again, to their current location undefined by walls—a 12,000 sq/ft space within a historic textile mill. This open space allows their retail gallery to be elaborately decorated like that of the old department stores and also allowed for a more efficient production studio open for tours where visitors can watch the artists paint each Santa by hand. Additionally, a Christmas Museum displays the history of the Vaillancourt Santas alongside the Vaillancourt’s personal collection of over 3,000 antique chocolate molds.
Today, Vaillancourt chalkware, ornaments, and dinnerware are found at the very best stores around the country. The Vaillancourts attribute their success to their customers. “We live in a disposable world. It is not uncommon for people to buy and discard. Our goal isn’t just to create a beautiful fine art product, our goal is to create a tradition that can be passed down to the next generation,” says Luke M. Vaillancourt.
In an economy that has been the demise of many businesses, Vaillancourt Folk Art sees their 30th Anniversary as a testament to consumers being conscious about quality, being supportive of local, and being appreciative of the quality of customer service that can only be attained from family business. Yes, Massachusetts, there is a Santa Claus.
It’s hard to tell when a tradition begins….