May 10, 2021

In The Artist's Studio: Rachel Garrison of VanDolls Folk Art

In The Artist's Studio:  Rachel Garrison of VanDolls Folk Art

You just can not get into a conversation with Rachel Garrison without coming away with wanting to learn more.  Rachel Garrison is the creator behind the sought after VanDolls Folk Art.  Read on to learn more about how Folk Art is in her DNA, how she started her collaborations with Johanna Parker Design and what color she loves to use the most!

It’s always nice to start off the conversation with a little ‘get-to-know-ya’ background, so I asked Rachel to give us a little background on her love of Folk Art and where it all began:

Rachel has folk art in her DNA.  Folk art goes back four generations in her family (that she knows of)!  As a gypsy, her great-grandmother would sell handmade, sewn items in town while her grandmother carried on the tradition and sold at local craft shows.  Memories of her mom go back as far as she can remember as her mom would create bunnies or clothes out of feed sacks.  Around the age of 8 or 9, in order to keep Rachel busy, her mom gave her a pile of buttons that Rachel started crafting into dolls.  She would then walk around the craft shows where her mom was working and sell her little dolls out of a basket.  WOW!  Starting your very own creations at 8 or 9! 

So of course, I then want to know her favorite holiday and why it became so:

Rachel didn’t celebrate holidays growing up.  They didn’t exchange presents at Christmas time, nor did they trick-or-treat at Halloween.  She does remember thinking that leprechauns were ‘cool’ when she was little and how as she got older, she really started to love the fall season.  She loved the change of colors and she would sit at the window and watch others as they dressed as someone (or something) else on Halloween night! 

One Halloween, she made up her mind that she would participate.  She didn’t really have a costume per se, but she had a black t-shirt that she constructed into a bat.  So is Halloween her favorite?  Yes, it became so.  When she moved out on her own, she made Halloween her decorating style.  Her bedding and home décor was soon to be found full of oranges and complimented with black!

Now that Rachel is raised in folk art traditions and full of the Halloween spirit, I then asked how she got started into making these wonderful creations that we love to grab up! 

It was here that I soon learned something new.  Germans used a process of using old rags and wood shavings into creating the pulp for the pumpkin lanterns they are known for back in the 1930’s.  It’s a composite method that she mimics in her own creations today.  She is a wealth of knowledge on all things relating to the history of this fine art and she soon had me googling to learn more. 

She loves the vintage styles of Halloween art that she creates.  She loves the feel of the lanterns, the glow they cast when given light from beneath.  She continues to tell me the history and origin of All Hallow’s Eve and how a lot of history was lost years ago.  She does in-depth studies and has even gone to the Library of Congress to learn more about this fun holiday!

While she worked ‘regular’ jobs for a while, it was after her second son was born that she and her fiancé decided it would be good if she could be a stay-at-home mom.  Staying at home doesn’t mean not working though, so she found herself making and selling her one-of-a-kind creations through Etsy.  It was about two years into this journey that she started her collaboration with Johanna Parker Design and Johanna’s Partners in Craft.  This relationship morphed into pieces around the pumpkin, ghost and cat (the start of it all!!)

So what is she most known for?  Her lanterns – all of those that capture our hearts:  pumpkins, ghosts, witches, snowmen, cats….and the list goes on!  She loves to stay with the vintage style Halloween decorating style and loves to capture the same essence that they did in the 40’s-60’s!

What’s your favorite color to work with?

Not only did she have a favorite, she had a very specific favorite:  Martha Stewart’s Flametree (orange).  When they were going to pull the color from the market, she literally freaked out and bought about a hundred bottles!  So now if you see orange on your favorite work of art from Rachel – you know the exact color!

Continuing the discussion on paint and painting, I had to know what it is that she thought of when painting her folk art goodies:

Strangely enough (or maybe not so strange), I found her thoughts similar to LeeAnn Kress of Charmed Confections.  When she paints, she is thinking of bringing this piece of art to life.  She wants to make sure that the look and feel of her art is something that she loves.  She wants to make sure that her collectors will love it as well.  She wants to make sure that it can be passed down through generations and not something people will just want to ‘get rid of’.  She wants to make sure that when it’s wiped clean or held that the person holding it will relish her work as much as she loves creating it. 

Which then leads into the next question of:  When do you feel most satisfied?

Rachel’s happy place is in the painting. It’s when her creation comes alive and it’s her opportunity to be creative.  She loves when she can see the ghost or witch evolve from the original model into something with character and style.  She loves when she can use various shades to highlight the cheeks.  This is the time she is most satisfied.

As collectors we want to know ‘what’s next’!

Rachel wants to continue down her path of Vaillancourt Folk Art while remaining family owned.  Her future vision is building a new house that has a large barn out back, filled with a pottery wheel so she can start creating other things like Halloween mugs!  She has such an American Spirit and wants to continue to deliver good products to people.  Personally I think her products are great…and if she moves to pottery, I’m in for that as well!

Getting to know Rachel more is just flat out fun!  When I asked what she liked to do in her non-work time, she answered that she enjoys Japanese shows.  HUH!!!  Ok – so I ask for more information on this and she explains that she admires the work ethic of the Japanese and how well organized they are.  They are always willing to step in and help one another.  So…I guess my next google is going to be Japanese shows as I love to learn as well. 

We love seeing Rachel’s work and her VanDolls Folk Art.  We are giddy when we receive her packages and prepare them for our collectors.  We can’t wait to see what’s new this year as she comes up with her new characters for us!  At Holiday Pizzazz, we’ll continue to bring as many one of a kind pieces that you can add to your collection so make sure you follow us on social media or receive our newsletters so you are up to date on when we add new VanDoll’s Folk Art to our shop!