We are honored that the staff of Foodies of New England chose us to be part of their festive Fall issue. It amazes us, even after 30 years, that these beautiful antique Chocolate Moulds help create the three dimensional canvas for our chalkware figurines.
From Chocolate to Chalkware
Written by Honee Hess with photography by Scott Erb and Donna Dufault
A European food tradition with its roots in the ancient Americas hardly seems the appropriate catalyst for a start-up business in hand-crafted folk art, but the family-owned and run Vaillancourt Folk Art is not your ordinary business.
First, the food tradition: cocoa was brought to Europe from South America sometime in the 1500s and originally was consumed only in liquid form, primarily by European nobility. It wasn’t until 1839-1847 that milk chocolate was created giving the chocolate a less bitter taste and then a process of making hard chocolate was invented.
Chocolate was the rage—every town in Europe had several chocolate shops, each vying with the other to make their chocolate in a unique form that would be a hit. Shops competed by creating very decorative and intricate molds in which the chocolate candy would be formed, many in the likeness of Santa and other Christmas characters.
Flash forward to 1984: a broken leg left Judi Vaillancourt of Sutton stuck at home with lots of time. Presented with a gift of three antique chocolate molds, Judi—ever the artist—began experimenting with using them to cast ornaments, first with beeswax, and then using a contemporary form of chalkware. Those first beeswax castings sold out immediately, and long-story-short, Vaillancourt Folk Art was born. Judi contin- ues as the artistic director and designer of Vaillancourt’s chalkware figures, most of which are holiday-themed. Today, the business employs 20, including several artists at their Manchaug Mills studio.
The antique molds are used 99% of the time to make their signature pieces, even when an old mould is modified to add an appropriate item, like a Red Sox hat on a snow man or a Santa holding a Nantucket Basket. “Mold-making is quite an art,” says Tom O’Malley, Ceramics Program Director at the Worcester Center for Crafts. “Many ceramic and glass artists today create molds–to get the kind of intricate detail that the Vaillancourt pieces have is very tricky.”
Food safety laws prohibit these molds from forming chocolate these days. Instead, Vaillancourt uses them to produce high-quality, American-made chalkware folk art that are destined to become heirlooms. From chocolate to chalkware, these antique molds are currently on view at the Vaillancourt Christmas museum. Tours are offered by request every day of the year depending on availability of the staff. Pre-registered group tours which last for one hour, and include a gift, are also available for a small fee.
Please visit Foodies of New England for distribution points and to read the full issue in its entirety.
Hess, H. (2013, Fall). From chocolate to chalkware. Foodies of New England, 3(3), 124-125. Retrieved from http://digitaleditions.sheridan.com/publication/?i=177029&p=124