'One-woman factory': Ceramic tree craze keeps Christmas crafter busy

·4 min read
'One-woman factory': Ceramic tree craze keeps Christmas crafter busy

When you walk through the back door of Edna Meisner's home in Blandford, N.S., you'll find a workshop that could rival that of Santa's elves.

Shelves of ceramic creations are set up in the small space, with lights glittering from every corner of the room.

There are green ceramic Christmas trees, and white ones — also some in periwinkle, cherry red, cotton candy pink and midnight blue. Some are glossy. Others sparkle with pretend snow.

There's more beauty to be found throughout the room: glowing stained-glass windows on tiny churches, intricate scenes of winter wonderlands and jolly Santa Clauses.

But it's the ceramic trees that keep people returning every year.

A staple in many homes, thanks to a ceramic class or two done by many grandmothers 50 years ago, the trees are now available in places like Canadian Tire as the nostalgic decorations make a comeback.

Emma Davie/CBC
Emma Davie/CBC

"People are fanatic about these trees now. It's gotten like chocolate, you can't just stop at one," said Meisner, noting that people often buy multiple trees at a time.

In business for 34 years

She's the owner of Edna's Ceramic Treasures. For 34 years, Meisner has been selling hundreds of ceramic trees, snow babies and other holiday ornaments. Each one she designed, crafted and painted herself.

"It's a one-woman factory and half the time the cleaner is out," she said, laughing.

What started as a hobby for Meisner blossomed over the years into a business and made her a fixture at Christmas markets across the Maritimes.

"It still amazes me that people want to buy stuff I made," she said. "I would have bet, and I don't bet, but I would have bet that I wouldn't have been able to support myself."

Emma Davie/CBC
Emma Davie/CBC

Three decades ago, Meisner took a ceramics class for something to do. After a year of playing with the clay, she decided to spend $10 on a table at a small craft show to see what she could sell.

"Well I made $100 and I thought I was rich. That hooked me, line and sinker."

Things snowballed from there. She attended bigger and bigger shows until she eventually made it to what crafters call "The Beast:" the Halifax Forum.

"I've had customers for 30 years. Their children now have children that are customers. I'm like, 'OK I'm getting old!'"

Meisner says she always tells her customers the same thing: "I make each piece as if I was keeping it for myself."

Weeks to make

Making the ceramic crafts is delicate work, but it's also messy.

The process starts with a mould. At one point, Meisner had 2,500 different moulds, but she did some housekeeping during the pandemic and that number is now much lower.

The moulds are filled with clay, left to sit, and eventually cleaned, dried and put into the kiln for seven hours. But you can't open the kiln for another 20 hours.

She estimates it takes two to three weeks from start to finish because of all of the drying time. But Meisner never works at just one and constantly has an array of items at different stages in the process.

Emma Davie/CBC
Emma Davie/CBC

As she became more comfortable with the sometimes temperamental clay, Meisner also got more creative.

At the request of a customer, she branched out from her green-and-white trees and made a blue one. It was a hit.

Now she makes trees in a rainbow of colours. Any colour you can dream, she can do.

She says ceramic trees especially have "exploded" in the last few years. Until 2019, she was making 200 to 250 trees alone in a season.

Supplies harder to get

But at the same time, it's become harder to get supplies. Meisner used to be able to get everything in Nova Scotia, but now it all has to be ordered from Ontario and internationally. The pandemic only made it harder to access materials.

She also worried it meant her customers would disappear.

"I always think I'm so forgettable. That nobody would remember. That when the pandemic started, that that was the end. Whether I could get supplies or not, that was the end," she said.

But from October until Christmas last year, and again this year, she worked non-stop. People even started putting in orders in the summer months.

Emma Davie/CBC
Emma Davie/CBC

Then this year, with some encouragement from other crafter friends and show promoters, she decided to attend the Forum show again.

She just about sold out of trees the first night, with people buying upwards of four at a time.

"That was a weekend of four hours sleep each night because I was coming home, painting trees, painting trees.... And sold, sold, sold," she said.

"I was busy as anything.... It was, keep out of my way and don't even talk to me."

Emma Davie/CBC
Emma Davie/CBC

When she began in the craft, Meisner said there were others, but not now. "There's nobody that I know."

As long as people are still interested, Meisner says she'll keep making trees.

"There's always ideas of things that I'm going to be making," she said, her eyes twinkling. "I already have a couple things started."

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