After reading my Collectors’ Quest article on chalkware, Luke M. Vaillancourt, of Vaillancourt Folk Art contacted me — and if that name seems familiar, it’s because Luke is the son of founder & artist Judi Vaillancourt. The family business has been creating chalkware figurines in Massachusetts for the past 25 years.
Vaillancourt Folk Art was founded in 1984 by Judi Vaillancourt, a formally trained illustrator and architectural historian, and her husband Gary Vaillancourt, who came from the computer imaging industry. Judi used three of her antique chocolate moulds by pouring them with liquid chalkware and handpainting the resulting figures. During the last 25 years the company has sold to such retailers as Nordstroms, Saks, Neiman Marcus and many more. More importantly to Judi, she has also created product and programs with museums such as Colonial Williamsburg, The Boston museum of fine Arts, The metropolitan and many others. Today the company employs approx 25 employees in their Sutton, MA. Studios. Visitors can see the painters creating the Vaillancourt originals, tour the Vaillancourt Christmas museum and adventure through one of America’s most interesting retail galleries.
Since one of the goals of VFA is to create pieces that will be collected and passed down for generations, Luke naturally agreed to an interview here at Collectors’ Quest so that you all could become smitten and begin collecting. *wink*
Luke, what was the first piece made?
The first Santa made was the VFA Nr. 101, Original Santa in a Red Coat, using an Anton Reiche chocolate molds.
Have there been any special pieces, limited editions, etc., that have become very popular (and perhaps pricey) with collectors on the secondary market?
There have been many special limited editions made over the last 25 years but two stand out: Every year for the last 20 years the Vaillancourt’s have made a Santa that benefits the Starlight foundation. The piece is produced each year from May until Christmas and it is then retired. The first Santa done in 1990, which sold for $95, sold last year on the secondary market for $2,300. This series tends to be the most highly sought after collection.
The other rare item is the two versions of chess sets that Judi did in the late 1980′s. Both sets sold out very quickly and are also highly sought after on the secondary market.
My mother first started doing folk art and historical restorations (the company started as Vaillancourt Folk Art & Friends), so her first few chalkware pieces were a Noah’s Ark that she created from wood and hand painted (accompanied with chalkware animals), wooden (followed by chalkware) clock faces, a Parcheesi game board with pieces (VFA Nr. 1004), and then two different Chess Sets.
The first Chess Set (VFA Nr. 1000) consisted of a wooden board that fit over the bottom that held the pieces that she had constructed and painted with a Christmas theme. The pieces used miniature chalkware figurines and was created as a limited edition set of 25. The sets sold out at a retail price of $3,000. One recently was found on eBay being sold for $7,500.
The second chessboard set (VFA Nr. 1003) was introduced a year later (1989) and was a limited edition set of 25 also selling retail for $3,000.
It is also worth noting that Judi had licensed several designs to Gorham Silver (1986) which manufactured another set of chess boards and pieces that sometimes surface on eBay. “Vaillancourt Folk Art for Gorham” was sold after a year of producing several small ornaments and Vaillancourt Folk Art ended it’s relationship with foreign manufacturers.
Do you or your mother collect chalkware?
Personally, I have about 75 – 100 chalkware Santas, Halloween figures, and rabbits. While I do have some favorites that I buy, most of them have been given to me from grand parents that have passed. To have a piece that was cherished by my grandmother or grandfather makes it all that much more special to me. And that is really our goal, to create an heirloom that can be passed on to family members.
Do you have a favorite Vaillancourt piece? If so, which one & why?
I always seem to change favorites with each year… I always find one that I love, but once my mother designs a new piece for the following year, I seem to adopt a new favorite. My current favorite is the Small Father Christmas because of the size, shape, color, rosy cheeks, and the amazing silhouette city on the back of the coat.
What &/or who inspires your mother’s designs?
Judi’s designs are often inspired by history. She studies constantly and whether it is an antique post card, fabric sample or architectural element it works into her designs. She is never influenced by what sells best (much to my father’s chagrin) but what moves her at the time and looks good! She is always using for historical references in design.
Why make chalkware rather than items made of resin, etc.? Doesn’t the fragile nature of the material make for more fragile heirlooms?
The reason chalkware was chosen was because of the painting surface that it has. It is smooth and lends itself like a canvas to the fine detail of our oil paints. My mother was the first to use this surface as a canvas for oil paints.
Come back tomorrow for Part Two of the interview — and find out what really, really impresses me about Vaillancourt Folk Art!