Vaillancourt Folk Art: crafting holiday memories

Based in New England, Vaillancourt Folk Art is renowned for making charming, beautifully crafted chalkware Santa Claus collectibles. From the pointed tips of their hats to the snowy toes of their boots, these special, limited-edition Santas have been a popular item in our holiday collection for eight years — so popular that they regularly sell out! But that’s not surprising coming from a company that’s synonymous with Christmas. According to Luke M. Vaillancourt, the family-owned company’s president, “Christmas is what we’re known for.”


About Vaillancourt Folk Art

The holiday spirit lives year-round at Vaillancourt Folk Art’s 12,000-square-foot studio and retail store, housed in a former nineteenth-century textile mill in Sutton, Massachusetts. Here, alongside a glittering gallery of Christmas trees, decorations, and festive holiday decor of every kind, Vaillancourt’s artists painstakingly craft and hand-paint several thousand chalkware figures annually. It’s a meticulous process — pioneered by founder and chief artist Judi Vaillancourt — that transforms each piece into a small work of art. Prized for their craftsmanship, Vaillancourt’s Santas have become treasured collectibles. “We have generations of families who visit our retail store every year to buy one,” says Luke. “For us, it’s really about starting a tradition.”


The origins of chalkware

During the nineteenth and early nineteenth century, chalkware became popular as a textural, more-durable alternative to porcelain for figurines. Sculpted from gypsum or plaster of Paris, and painted with watercolors, chalkware was often sold by carnival vendors and commonly referred to as “carnival chalk.”


The evolution of a special holiday tradition

Vaillancourt Folk Art reinvented the medium, beginning with three antique German chocolate molds. The molds, gifts from Gary Vaillancourt to Judi, his wife, piqued her curiosity. A fine artist, she was fascinated by the painted chalkware she discovered in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She experimented first with shaping chocolate, then beeswax, and finally liquid chalk, in the molds. Once the chalkware hardened, she applied oil paint to the finished figures. Inspired, Gary and Judi launched Vaillancourt Folk Art from their home in 1984; they poured chalkware in the kitchen, painted the figures in their living room, and ran shipping out of their bedroom (the couple’s parents were the first employees). Nearly 40 years, and two locations later, Vaillancourt Folk Art is still family-run: Judi is lead designer, Gary runs production, and Luke is the company’s president. And Judi’s collection of vintage chocolate molds, used for all the pieces Vaillancourt produces, has grown to over 3,000!

Judi designs every piece Vaillancourt produces (at least 100 unique designs a year). Inspired by nostalgic memories, folk art and extensive research, Judi also designs custom chalkware figures for retailers like Garnet Hill. If there’s a special design element — a color or theme — that we want in our chalkware pieces, Judi works it into her designs.


It takes four to six weeks to produce the limited-edition Garnet Hill Santas.

First, a metal or plastic mold is selected; then, liquid chalk is carefully poured into one mold at a time.

The chalk figures are left in a drying room for up to a week (larger figures can take up to a month to dry!)

Judi paints at least one figure as a guide for the staff artists to follow.

Each figure is then hand-painted by up to three different artists based on the finishes necessary for the design.


Start your own Vaillancourt holiday tradition today

If you enjoy Christmas, a stop to Vaillancourt is a must. Decorated for the holidays year-round, the Retail Gallery is chock full of inspiration and the place to pick out a special ornament, chalkware, or even a bottle of the company’s Christmas Wine. Watch the artists working in the studios and explore a small Christmas museum showcasing Judi’s original chalkware designs. There’s also a theater which features events like the annual oneman performance of A Christmas Carol, performed by Gerald Dickens, Charles Dickens’ great-great-grandson. There’s no limit to the Vaillancourts’ creativity. “We love what we do,” Luke says. “What better job can you have than helping people make Christmas memories?”


Handmade for the holidays: our tradition of handknit stockings

Festive ways to celebrate the season today. Heirloom quality to treasure for years to come.


Meet the artist behind some of our new, whimsical holiday prints

Artist Hillary Sorrentino takes us into her creative world inspired by nature and folkloric whimsy.

Learn more
Category-Espot:195081-Vaillancourt Folk Art