Skip to main content

Get To Know Victoria Denis of Victoria's Artisan Gifts & Bead Shop of Claremont

Mar 08, 2023 12:58PM ● By Stephanie Hatley
In 2017, entrepreneur Victoria Denis brought her small business to New Hampshire. Victoria's Artisan Gifts & Bead Shop carries Chalkboard Play Mats and accessories like braided-ribbon barrettes and sewing supplies. Encouraging creativity and fun, Victoria’s designs are all handcrafted and make great gifts for the young ones in your life. She regularly attends local craft shows in New England as well as maintains her Etsy shop online. This month, we caught up with Victoria to ask her about how her business began and how far it has come over the decades.

Tell us about the beginnings of your love for art. Who inspired you? How did you develop this interest?

I come from a family of handcrafters. My grandmother, Estelle Sherman, was an excellent seamstress and often made clothes for her five children. Grandma Sherman was my inspiration to learn the ins and outs of a sewing machine and to get creative in my early years. Living in this area also brings out the creative flow due to the natural beauty here.

Being a mother of three and a former educator was my inspiration to start making my Chalkboard Play Mats while also working full time. I had the material, the idea, and three curious kids who could be the first ones to try them out.

I developed my interest in the design I make now after seeing a chalkboard-like fabric being made by a few folks nearly 20 years ago into flat placemats that they would flip over when food was served. And then they'd just put them away. I thought at the time, "This could be so much better." I started thinking about inner padding and pockets and functions.


What was it like to start your own business? What challenges and successes do you remember in the early years?

The most challenging part of starting a small business in a very remote area was physically getting Chalkboard Play Mats to people who had not seen them yet. When I first began, it was more of a hobby, and this was pre–social media.

Interestingly, I opened one of the very first Etsy shops in 2007. In addition to Chalkboard Play Mats, I also made '80s ribbon barrettes and fun accessories such as princess skirts and tutus for a while. I still have that Etsy shop to this day and will celebrate my 16th year this April.

At the beginning, I would handcraft a small batch of soft chalkboards and bring them to a craft show. Like many microbusinesses, I would then use the proceeds to expand my fabric collection, start sewing again, and bring them to another craft show. It grew yearly from there.

Moving to Claremont in 2016 was a great help in centralizing my small business. By 2017 I had set up a working studio here in Claremont and was closer to many points of interest, including craft fairs in New Hampshire, Vermont, and southern Maine. At that point I could advertise and spread the word, set up my shop in a beautiful big booth with a professional display, and meet new customers at each location locally and regionally.

What does the Claremont community mean to you?

The Claremont community means the world to me. I had been visiting the area to see my sister for 24 years before moving here to live with my partner, now husband, Bruce. Between us, we have five grown children, and two are in this area. I have always loved the beauty and history of Claremont and of the region, including the Upper Valley. The rivers tell a story of the industrial history of this region. Lately, it has been a joy to see a rejuvenated Pleasant Street as well as incoming businesses and new residents discovering the beauty of our region and its amazing outdoor recreational opportunities and cultural venues.

My small business has donated annually in cash and/or supplies to the SCHS, the Kiwanis holiday gifts for children, the Claremont Soup Kitchen's school pantry program, a Claremont church backpack program, the All-4-One program and Baby Steps centers (both in Claremont), and Tatum's Totes, a program in Springfield, Vermont, that helps prepare backpacks for children being transferred into foster care. We also donate Chalkboard Play Mats to the Arrowhead Cardboard Sled Race for prizes, among other local donations for nonprofit events.

Tell us about what you offer at Victoria's Artisan Gifts & Bead Shop.

The online shop, Victoria's Artisan Gifts on Etsy, offers a wide selection of handcrafted Chalkboard Play Mats in three sizes, along with sewing and beading supplies that rotate depending on availability. These include fabric remnant bundles, button and notion bundles, beading and jewelry-making supplies, or assorted handcrafted gifts and accessories.

Visitors entering my booth in person at local craft shows will see a huge, colorful display of Chalkboard Play Mats set up like a bookstore, on front-facing racks. Several sample Chalkboard Play Mats are always out on the tables with chalk so anyone age 3-plus can try them out, and also try wiping them clean with the wipe cloths placed nearby. I also offer cotton crocheted wipe cloths in a rainbow of hues, displayed on a cupcake stand, and Ribbon Barrettes at select shows.

When folks ask questions such as "Do you make all these?" and "How are these made?" I take pride in demonstrating the handcrafting process. I have also put together a handout called "What can I do with my Chalkboard Play Mat?" that includes multiple fun ways to use them, such as for writing stories, drawing your favorite place or a pet you'd like to have some day, and games to try while traveling or at home.


Victoria explains that being able to attend so many different local pop-up fairs and vendor events in addition to having her online shop has brought her great joy and pride. She brings fun, handcrafted items to shoppers all over New England and beyond. She’s also happy that she can give back to the Claremont community through ongoing donations to nonprofit organizations.

If you’d like to contact Victoria, she’s usually working in her home sewing studio here in Claremont. She’s happy to mail chalkboards or meet in person at a local public spot. To see a list of upcoming craft shows and festival locations, visit the Victoria's Artisan Gifts website or her Etsy shop.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Image's free newsletter to catch every headline