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.
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.
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.