Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Enduring Beauty of Folly Cove Design

Gossips
Shortly after I moved to Gloucester a friend had a little birthday party for me. One of the gifts I received was a linen tea towel printed with a charming pattern of very stylized little women sharing gossip. I was told it was a design by the Folly Cove Designers and I had no idea what that meant.

As I got to know my new home, I occasionally noticed items in shops printed with similar designs in bright colors that were absolutely delightful. Worked into the designs were lobsters, sailing ships, all sorts of flowers, children on swings, people dancing, people harvesting hay, etc. Always they were identified as the work of the Folly Cove Designers. I knew where Folly Cove was—my friend Leslie had her goldsmith and jewelry design studio in a little house there, and it was in a tavern on Folly Cove the day after the “perfect storm” that I first learned the Andrea Gail was missing.
Home Port

Eventually, I was at the Cape Ann Museum when I discovered their collection of work by these remarkable designers. The group was founded in Folly Cove when children's author and designer Virginia Lee Burton wanted someone to teach her two sons to play the violin. A neighbor, Aino Clarke, agreed to teach music in exchange for Burton teaching her the art of design. Burton decided to teach the art of block printing and before long she and Aino were joined by a group of neighbors, none of whom had much training in art. Burton was an excellent teacher and before long the women were designing their own patterns which they carved in linoleum blocks and began printing with—mostly on linen and paper.
The Swing Tree

What Burton did that made their designs so charming, was urge them to look to nature, and local, familiar scenes for inspiration. The designers each developed their own designs and, working in their own homes, they created items to show at their monthly meetings. In 1943 they instituted a jury that evaluated the new designs to determine which ones would be part of the Folly Cove Designers collection.

Between 1941 and 1955, the designers participated in 16 museum exhibitions. They also began producing textiles for big name wholesalers and retailers. In 1948 they acquired a barn in which to continue work and they expanded their offerings. When Virginia Lee Burton died in 1969, the group agreed to disband and, eventually, donate their materials and linoleum blocks to the Cape Ann Museum.
Lily of the Valley

Sarah Elizabeth Halloran, one of the original designers, continued to produce designs on the Acorn press that the designers used. In 1974, she began her own collection of Folly Cove Designs and took as her apprentice a woman named Isabel Natti. Eventually, Isabel opened the Sarah Elizabeth Shop in Whistlestop Mall in Rockport which is where I met her. She was a bright, charming woman who loved design. Sarah Elizabeth died in 2009 and Isabel followed in 2011. Fortunately a young woman named Julia Garrison acquired the blocks made by Sarah and Isabel. Some blocks were too fragile to continue to be used so she converted them to silk screen. The rest of the blocks are still used in the production of runners, placemats, tote bags, etc. all printed on that historic Acorn press from inks similar to the originals. They are now available through her Etsy shop.
Lobsters
Haying
For me Gloucester has always been a place of endless inspiration and the Folly Cove Designers are just one more example of why.


Thanks for reading.

24 comments:

  1. Those are wonderful designs. Hopefully, people will keep up the tradition. Home port is my favorite.

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    1. I love all of them. There are so many--I keep seeing new ones all the time.

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  2. How lovely that the work of these talented artisans continues to thrive, and grow. It would be hard to go past these charming designs.

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    1. I agree with you. There are so many more, too. I love all of them.

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  3. Hi, Kathleen!

    You are fortunate to live in Gloucester. Although I am a newcomer to your blog I am quickly learning why your city and neighboring communities are places of inspiration.

    Mrs. Shady is an artist and I will show her your post. These samples of work produced by Folly Cove Designers are simply wonderful. Surely Julia's Etsy shop is doing a brisk business selling items bearing these unique designs.

    Coincidentally Mrs. Shady watched the movie The Perfect Storm just the other day.

    Thanks, dear friend Kathleen, and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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    1. Hi, Shady, thanks again for visiting. I love my little corner of the world. Maybe some day I'll write a blog post about the filming of The Perfect Storm" here. It was an exciting time!

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  4. Wow, this stuff is beautiful, reminds me a bit of William Morris, and Aubrey Beardsly. The story behind it makes it all even more amazing.

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    1. You're right about Morris and Beardsley! The designs are so charming. I hope they are around for a long time.

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  5. Very lovely! I like the Lily of the Valley best. Have a great week!

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    1. I confess of all the flower designs that is my favorite.

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  6. Those are lovely! I love tea towels. They make such a great collector's item - practical and don't take up too much space. I think my favorite is the lobster one.

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    1. I agree about the tea towels. And the lobsters. :)

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  7. I love these stylized designs. They are so interesting because they capture repetitious life moments in such an engaging way.

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    1. That's an interesting way of looking at it, Lee. I never thought of that.

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  8. What beautiful designs. I remember doing something like that in school - I ended up with random hack marks as my print, so I can appreciate the skill involved in this art!

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    1. Yes, I tried it with rubber blocks but the results were not exactly stunning!

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  9. How lovely! I need more budget for art.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

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  10. Hoe delightful that their designs live on!

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  11. I love the designs and have always enjoyed block type printing. THe blocks themselves are works of art.

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