SUTTON (CBS) — It happens here, in Sutton. Purgatory Chasm’s outcroppings and caves draw thousands of hikers every year. Back in 1717, the “Big Snow” completely covered early settlers’ cabins. Indians came to the rescue when they spotted smoke coming from the chimney. Over at the Manchaug Mill, the Fruit of the Loom brand was born.
Today the mill houses a major Christmas operation, Vaillancourt Folk Art. This impressive handcrafted operation started 35 years ago when Judi Vaillancourt, a trained artist, started making Christmas pieces in the kitchen of her family’s Sutton home.
They caught on at folk art festivals, and the demand that resulted meant Judi needed more help, so her family stepped up.
“It was a gutsy move. Leaving high tech at the peak of it to come out here and start making Santa Claus was a risk, but a risk born by satisfaction,” Gary Vaillancourt said. “My wife is a creative genius.”
Since then, the Vaillancourts have moved into a much bigger space, housing a retail store, museum, workshop and theater. For many families, a visit to the store has become tradition.
“We create this store to be magical,” Gary explained. “Once somebody comes, they come back. They come back with their children, with their grandchildren. They’re starting a tradition.”
The handcrafted pieces begin to take shape when a chalkware mix is poured into antique chocolate molds that date back as far as 1850. Every piece is carefully unmolded, smoothed and sent to the painters who work off Judi’s original design.
“You could line up six pieces painted by the same painter and you could find little things different on each of them.”
Then it’s off for the final touches in the appropriately named “bling department,” where Nancy adds tiny details and glitter to polish off the pieces before they go on display or get shipped around the world. You can see that Christmas bling on display throughout the Vaillancourt store all year long.
Vaillancourt chalkware Christmas pieces can be found at retailers across the country and online.