In retirement, some people find happiness by being near their kids and grandchildren, finally buying that villa at the beach, a log cabin nestled up against a hillside in the mountains overlooking the lake, or hopping in an RV and traveling the country. For Claire Walker and her husband Al, happiness is found just outside of Cabarrus County and at the Piedmont Farmers Market.
Regulars at the market will recognize Claire, owner of Femme Artistique, and her husband Al. She has been a mainstay at the Winecoff School Road Market, selling her artwork and jewelry at the various markets for fourteen years.
She grew up in Biddeford, Maine on the coast of the Atlantic where she and many of the villagers spoke French. There were three churches. Two were French, one was Irish. She went to a French-speaking parochial Catholic school “with the nuns”, and didn’t have to regularly converse in English until she was in her 20’s. When speaking with Claire, one can pick up on the distinctive foreign accent blended with that of a New Englander.
The warmer climate brought her and Al South upon her retirement from working HR in a semi-conductor factory in 2001. They came to visit Al’s niece who lives in the area. They liked the region so much that they decided to make the move.
“Al and I,” she said, “we just enjoy it. Up in Maine, it’s too cold for a year-round farmers market. I came down [to North Carolina], and I kissed the ground. I always wanted to go South since I was a teenager.”
“We’ve met some beautiful people,” Al said.
Claire first became a vendor at the Piedmont Farmers Market in 2002. In her early days with them, she found herself being the only vendor not selling produce or baked goods.
“I was outside,” she said, meaning that she set up out from under the covered confines of the Winecoff Market. “I didn’t know of anyone else who sold jewelry. There were a lot of farmers and bakers. But I stuck on. There was an opening on the inside, and they put me on the inside.”
Over time, other artists came in but did not last. Claire explains that they overpriced themselves. “When you try to sell a piece of artwork for $500, the farmers market is not the place. My [artwork] is all original. I never made prints. No copies. I make mine for the people like us,” she said pointing to myself, my wife, and young son. “You don’t have to be rich to own an original painting.
Her business name, Femme Artistique, translates into “Woman Artist” from French. When one enters their elegant home, her artwork covers the walls. I felt as though I had stepped into a private art gallery. The ocean motifs on the wall going up the stairs were my favorites.
During retirement, Claire has been able to cultivate and nurture her intrinsic, artful side. She said she was grateful to be able to express herself through art and jewelry. When you visit her booth at the Winecoff Market, you will find beautiful original artwork, hand-made jewelry, and “a lot of love.”
Happiness is a relative thing. Not everyone needs an oceanside retreat to be happy. Claire and Al are two of the happiest folks I have had the pleasure in meeting.
Perhaps art and jewelry aren’t your thing. No matter. Still, stop by her booth and engage in conversation with them. You will surely smile and come away feeling refreshed. They will rub off on you.
“This is where I belong,” she said of her life in our region of North Carolina. “This is home.”
She smiled. I smiled. Good times.