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35 Years of Christmas Traditions Made in Massachusetts

The Vaillancourt production team at work in the Sutton, MA artists' studios.

“It’s Hard To Tell When A Tradition Begins…” and, to paraphrase Henry James, to make even a little tradition requires an endless amount of history. Throughout 2019, Vaillancourt Folk Art will celebrate thirty-five years of bringing Christmas cheer all across the world. Since 1984, VFA has provided customers and collectors with fine-art quality collectibles made to stand the test of time. Why? Because VFA founders Gary and Judi Vaillancourt believe in the importance of tradition. As a family-owned small business situated in the heart of Massachusetts, their artisans create heirloom pieces meant to be passed down from generation to generation, often with loving stories shared alongside them. Vaillancourt chalkware is designed, poured, and hand painted in the studios in Sutton, Massachusetts, where history, antiques, and—of course—Christmas provide inspiration for pieces sure to bring joy and happiness to their beholders.

How can we know when a statement, belief, or activity becomes more than just another Sunday with the family? After thirty-five years of running Vaillancourt Folk Art, a company dedicated to making Christmas treasures meant to stand the test of time, Gary and Judi Vaillancourt, along with their son Luke, have figured out how keep Christmastime special today and for future generations.

The kitchen at the Vaillancourt's home acted as the first "pouring room" in the early 1980s.

The kitchen at the Vaillancourt’s home acted as the first “pouring room” in the early 1980s.

In the early 1980s, after dismantling, reassembling, and restoring a Colonial-era home by hand and immersing herself in the life and times of pre-Industrial America, Judi Vaillancourt revived the art of chalkware ornamentation to the delight of collectors around the country. The business took shape in the Vaillancourt’s tiny circa-1700s kitchen, where Judi set up shop pouring liquid chalk into vintage confectionery molds—Santa casts for candy and chocolate—and painted vibrant images onto the dried pieces. Soon, she was selling these Santas at folk art shows throughout Massachusetts—and selling out almost as soon as she opened her stall!

Today, Vaillancourt Folk Art pieces are sold in retail stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, and Roger’s Gardens; historic gift shops like those found at Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, Mount Vernon, and the American Folk Art Museum in New York; along with many other locations throughout the country.

Gary and Judi Vaillancourt at their retail gallery in Sutton, MA.

Gary and Judi Vaillancourt at their retail gallery in Sutton, MA.

Judi’s success spurred Gary to quit a lucrative position in the tech industry to focus entirely on Vaillancourt Folk Art. Their charming Colonial-era home served as base of operations–itself as much a part of the business story as the Santa figurines. A feature story in Early American Life in 1988 led to more orders, eventually landing Vaillancourt Folk Art in the historic Manchaug Mills complex in Sutton, Massachusetts, where they currently employ a team of twenty artists who make Christmas magic all year.

Vaillancourt Folk Art attracts 20,000 visitors annually from around the world who come to learn about how this team of artists crafts Christmas here in the United States.

It isn’t easy—hand-pouring and painting a single Santa figurine takes fourteen people three weeks from start to finish—but Vaillancourt Folk Art is proud to produce objects meant to be passed from one generation to the next.

As Charles Dickens said, Christmas brings an all-too-brief season of happiness, gently encouraging us to recall sweet memories from times gone by.

Vaillancourt Folk Art is proud to share this special year with collectors across the globe. Here’s to another 35 years!

As we dive into 2019, we’re planning a lot of reasons to celebrate. To start, our Premier Number Weekend will feature the low numbers of each of our 2019 Chalkware designs. In April, our annual Collector’s Weekend will feature two painting workshop painting options (Ornate Santa Driving Christmas Car with Deer in Back Seat and Painting Workshop Dressed Gardening Rabbit!) and will have some phenomenal speakers during our lecture series (including the CEO/President of Old Sturbridge Village, Jim Donahue). We’ll also be offering two independent Painting Workshops with our artist, William Anderson, where you can learn what it’s like to paint a Vaillancourt Snowman and Halloween Pumpkin! With a wild success and quick sell-out of our first ever Vaillancourt Christmas Wine we’ll be introducing our second in the fall which will be followed by a very important introduction into the Christmas season as we introduce our 30th Annual Starlight Santa! To go one step further, we’ve teamed up with some of the country’s most acclaimed artists that have been friends since our “retail show” days and will be introducing the Vaillancourt Christkindlesmarkt to channel our European traditions. Once we’re fully immersed in the Christmas season, we’ll continue to bring the tradition of Dickens with performances of A Christmas Carol performed by Charles Dickens’ great-great-grandson, Gerald, right in our studios. In addition to all of these events, we’ll continue to introduce a piece of Christmas throughout the year (whether part of our Irish Santa Series, Valentine Santa Series, or our popular Nantucket Santa Series). What more, we’ll be introducing some very very special pieces throughout the year that touch to the heart of what made Vaillancourt chalkware so unique with the introduction of several one-of-a-kind mould pieces that pair an original design with an authentic, vintage chocolate mould. In short, our 35-year anniversary is going to be one to celebrate.

It’s Hard To Tell When A Tradition Begins… and we thank you for letting us be part of your family’s.

Have you started a tradition with us? Join us in celebrating on social media with #35Traditions—share your story of starting with us, decorations, inspirations, or even simply your own family tradition.