Once the head is attached to the body with a metal rod, formidable plaster is built up, moulded, and carved to create a seamless piece.
How the Nautical Fisherman Santa in Sailing Boat is made from combining three moulds.
Gary and Judi have amassed the largest private collection of antique chocolate moulds in the country. Having started collecting in 1983—the year because Vaillancourt Folk Art was incorporated—it was easy to grow the collection that Judi so quickly fell in love with. In the 1980s the moulds were common and inexpensive—compared to today where a rare mould can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Since the beginning, Judi used these antique moulds to unlock the detail within.
It has been well documented that she turned to a Victorian medium—chalkware—into what is recognized as chalkware today. Creating a three-dimensional canvas to unlock the beauty that would have been reserved for chocolate, ice cream, or candies in the turn of the century, the possibilities were limitless. Until thousands of designs later…
Trying to continually create new designs, Judi had used nearly every mould in her collection. So, she turned towards contemporary moulds—mostly plastic moulds created in the 1950s in New York—when metal was replaced with an FDA approved, economic alternative. The result was more American Santa Clause figures, versus the historic European Father Christmas and gift giver’s companions (like the Belsnickel).
What’s more, when designing for institutions like Colonial Williamsburg, where their genre is distinctly void of chocolate mould designs, Judi would turn to creating moulds that were unique to the industry.
Today, creating new moulds and hand carving and merging existing moulds are common when an antique version does not exist.
A question posed on Instagram by @lowellgary, prompted by a sneak peek of the Nautical Fisherman Santa in Sailing Boat, pointed out that the true behind the scenes of how some of our non-traditional chawalkre might be interesting.
In the case of this Nautical Fisherman Santa in Sailing Boat, a custom piece for Tannenbaum Holiday Shop in Sister Bay, WI, Judi simply did not have a mould of a Santa steering a boat. How the piece came to be is much more involved than you’d imagine.
First, the original mould was a pewter banquet ice cream mould, the Banquet Sailboat, VFA Nr. 629, introduced in 1989. Because ice cream moulds are so fragile and rare, Judi duplicated the mould using a rubber base allowing the preservation of the antique mould. This rubber mould has been used over the years, most notably for the Santa Figurehead On Nantucket Boat, VFA Nr. 15023, where the original sailor was removed entirely.
When Tannenbaum asked Judi to develop a fisherman Santa, she knew that the sailboat would act as the base, but needed to further develop the Santa. Leaving the body, Judi decided to use an antique gnome mould to replace the sailor’s head—which was last used as the Miniature Santa in Blue Night Sky Coat (VFA Nr.: 2002MS20). To attach the two, she’d use a metal rod to anchor the new head—freshly carved to remove his pointy hat—onto the body. To make the two pieces seamlessly blend, she used a wet plaster to mould and shape the two pieces into one.
Although the process takes nearly an hour before being painted, the end result is a beautiful Fisherman Santa navigating the waters of Lake Michigan.
The photos and time-lapse video included in this article show the process being done within the pouring room with Lindsey—who joined us in May 2018—meticulously following Judi’s steps to create this new piece.
The piece can be ordered directly through Tannenbaum Holiday Shop starting in July.