Vaillancourt Folk Art's 30 Years of Traditions

Yes, Massachusetts, there is a Santa Claus.



Sutton, MA —Vaillancourt Folk Art, the Massachusetts small business known for their hand painted Chalkware Santas, mouth blown Polish glass ornaments, and handmade English dinnerware, is celebrating 30 years of creating family traditions.

Judi Vaillancourt (right) pouring Chalkware in her home's kitchen (1985)
Judi Vaillancourt (right) pouring Chalkware in her home’s kitchen (1985)

Gary and Judi Vaillancourt established the company in 1984, when Judi, a classically trained artist with a passion for antiques and Christmas, adapted her own technique based on a Victorian art form. First sold at Folk Art craft fairs, Judi’s chalkware Santas were quick to sell out causing her husband, Gary, to quit his job in high-tech to manage and grow the prospective business. Quickly outgrowing their kitchen and then basement studio, Gary and Judi expanded their wholesale distribution by opening a retail gallery in a 1820s farmhouse located down the street from Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton. Helped by the late ‘80s desire for Americana, Vaillancourt Folk Art regularly featured American artists like Chris Lamontange, Judie Tasch, and Tasha Tudor and as well as receiving Hollywood support from the likes of Tom Bergeron and Emma Samms.

Celebrating artist appearances at the Armsby Road retail store in 1989.
Celebrating artist appearances at the Armsby Road retail store in 1989.

When the threat of copying the process and product from overseas occurred in the early 1990s, Judi’s solution wasn’t to compete with price, but to increase the 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 or our quality,” Gary Vaillancourt said.

A true family business from the start (both employing Gary and Judi’s parents) the tradition continues with their son, Luke, joining the company in 2007 to propagate the company’s digital footprint in the marketing and commerce ecosystem. In a post 9-11 world, the marketplace had dramatically changed. “Hundreds of small mom-and-pop shopped 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.” Prior to Luke joining the company, in 2006, Vaillancourt Folk Art moved to their current location at the Manchaug Mills—still in Sutton—where they took 12,000 sq./ft. that was undefined by walls, allowing their retail gallery to be decorated like that of the old department stores. The expanded space also allowed for a more efficient production studio where guests can enjoy seeing the process of hand painting each Chalkware Santa and a Christmas Museum which displays the history of the Vaillancourt Santas alongside their 3,000 antique chocolate mold collection.

Gary, Judi, and Luke in 2013
Today, Gary, Judi, and Luke continue to work together to grow Vaillancourt Folk Art into a household name.

Today, Vaillancourt chalkware, ornaments, and dinnerware are found in both large department stores and small shoppes around the country—including museum gift shops, catalogs, and specialty stores. 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 high quality fine art product that is beautiful, our goal is to have the owner of that story pass it down to the next generation,” says Luke M. Vaillancourt.

As Vaillancourt Folk Art celebrates its 30th anniversary, they have a lot up their sleeve. To start, each month they will be releasing a series of twelve limited edition (limited to, you guessed it, 30) pieces found in their original catalogs; pieces that have not been painted since the founding days. In addition to in-store events, Gary and Judi were approached by Viking River Cruises to host a December 2014 cruise of Europe’s Christmas Markets. The weeklong cruise, which starts in Bavaria, visits the Christkindlmarkts of the Danube River, stopping in: Regensburg, Passau and Vienne before concluding in Budapest, Hungary. Tickets are going fast and are available through Young’s American Express Travel. “We have a lot of Christmas traditions in our family and while we have gone out of our way to experience Christmas in a lot of different ways, this will be the first time that Gary and I will be able to experience the Christkindlemarkts, which where held more than seven centuries ago,” says Judi Vaillancourt. Their Sutton retail studios will continue normal holiday hours during the week of the cruise.

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 received when supporting a family business.  Yes, Massachusetts, there is a Santa Claus.

The expanded retail gallery allows for creative decorative themes to be showcased each holiday season.
The expanded retail gallery allows for creative decorative themes to be showcased each holiday season.

Things to look for: