Continuing my interview with Luke M. Vaillancourt of Vaillancourt Folk Art…
One thing that truly impresses me about your company is the real dedication you have to collectors. How did you know you ought to put on your website a collectors area with an identification guide etc.?
When I started working for the company in 2007, I came from a heavy digital marketing, eCommerce background. My first goal was to take over the web site and to recreate it to meet contemporary standards and to give people a reason to visit and stay on the site. We would get dozens of calls a week asking questions about certain pieces, both from collectors and casual shoppers. To help them, I wanted to create a Collector’s Handbook that included information and images on every piece in the collection. My mother had kept a very detailed database, and when I took over the web site I was able to integrate the database so that web visitors could easily look up information.
When we first launched the web site, our collectors poured through the thousands of pages and would actually e-mail us missing images, or let us know if they thought some information may be different. We actually had 4 collectors send us 5 page highly detailed emails about the pieces. One even found date and color variation that was inconsistent with their own!
The Collector’s Handbook also gives people a sense of value. We get countless calls a year asking for an appraisal value for their collection for insurance purposes. This helps them find the values for their own inventory needs! Although we have the web site, we are always more than happy to help anyone over the phone or in person. We pride ourselves on our customer service and knowledge of the pieces.
I often marvel at the number of companies which do not do this, so kudos to you! Your amazing dedication to your fans, to collectors, is amazing — you even host events for collectors.
There are thousands of families that collect Vaillancourt Chalkware, and those who are the serious collector are known to have hundreds of pieces. In April of each year, we host a Collector’s Weekend, where we have an entire weekend dedicated to our work.
Collectors, both casual and serious collectors, fly in from all over the country and sit in our painting workshops (where they can paint their own limited edition Collector’s Weekend Santa), sit through educational lectures on Christmas History, Vaillancourt History, and other from keynote speakers.
One thing that I think is important to note is that chalkware, although a Victorian art form, was re-erected by Judi. Although she is very humble and would never take any credit, upon doing research I learned that she was the one that truly started using antique confectionery moulds (mostly for chocolates) in this way. While Victorian chalkware existed for years, it was an untreated medium used mostly with watercolors and minimum detail; as a replacement to porcelain, Victorian chalkware was inexpensive.
My mother, a true Christmas historian and artist, received three moulds as a gift from my father. When she was stuck at home, she decided to use these chocolate moulds of Father Christmases to first create beeswax figures (she put them in the refrigerator to harden and me, as a young boy, I seemed to always knock them over and make a mess!!). She decided that instead of beeswax to use a plaster substance. Being a traditionally trained artist and illustrator, she saw these chalkware figures as the perfect canvas, and used her talent of oil painting as a way to create such highly detailed pieces of art work.
There are several other “Folk Art” companies that have taken this story and adapted it into their own, and often when I am doing research on the web, I find passages that they have copied and pasted from our web site into their own (much to my amazement). But what is most interesting is that “Folk Art” has always been more about wood carvings and historical woodwork (like how my mother started Vaillancourt Folk Art)… most of these other companies that add “folk art” after their last name do none of the sort and instead focus on “chalkware”… coincidence?
All in all, what started the collectiblity of Vaillancourt Chalkware — and what has kept it in the spot light — was the uniqueness, the immense detail and research history that goes into every piece that Judi designs. Her vision and passion for the art form, combined with my father’s marketing and business ingenuity has allowed Vaillancourt Chalkware to be nationally recognized and collected for a quarter of a century.
And I dare say your commitment to Vaillancourt collectors — the Vaillancourt Studios even has a museum!
The museum started once we moved to the 1800s textile mill that we currently reside in. We moved to the mill (where Fruit of the Loom started) in 2007 and created the museum so that all of the chalkware figures, and our collection of antique confectionery moulds (we have about 7,000) could be displayed.
It is great for visitors to visit our studios because they are able to see our artists working, and then go to the museum and explore the different designs over the years.
We have about 1,500 different pieces, created by Judi, in the museum on display — including lots of custom pieces done for Museum of Fine Arts, MET, and Colonial Williamsburg.
Any tips for chalkware collectors?
The best thing for any collector to do is to find a piece that speaks to them. Vaillancourt’s goal is to create 1 piece that can be given to a loved one, or close friend, that will be cherished and passed down to generations. We attempt to create christmas traditions, and are happy to be included in hundreds of families traditions. It is the most satisfying thing to know that on Christmas morning (or any day) many loved ones are opening their Vaillancourt Chalkware as their main Christmas gift.
Thanks, Luke; Vaillancourt’s dedication to both the art & collectors of chalkware sure shows. Impressive.