April 27, 2019

"Roses are Red. Are Violets Blue??" by Alice & Martin Provensen (1973)

ALICE PROVENSEN (1918 - 2018) and MARTIN PROVENSEN (1916 – 1987) were an American couple who illustrated more than 40 children's books together, 19 of which they also wrote and edited. According to Alice, "we were a true collaboration. Martin and I really were one artist."
Their early lives were remarkably similar. Both were born in Chicago and both moved to California when they were twelve. Both received scholarships to the Art Institute of Chicago, and both attended the University of California, though at separate campuses. After college, Alice went to work with Walter Lantz Studio, the creators of Woody Woodpecker, and Martin took work with the rival Walt Disney Studio, where he collaborated on Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo.
The pair met in 1943 when Martin, working as a creator of training films for the American military, was assigned to the Walter Lantz Studio. They were married in 1944 and resettled in Washington, D.C., where they worked on war-related projects. After the war they moved to New York City where a friend helped them get their first job, illustrating The Fireside Book of Folk Songs. They illustrated several Little Golden Books including The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown (1949). In 1952, Tony the Tiger, designed by Martin, debuted as a Kellogg's mascot.
The Provensen's were a runner-up for the 1982 Caldecott Medal as illustrators of A Visit to William Blake's Inn by Nancy Willard (who won the companion Newbery Medal). Two years later they won the Caldecott for The Glorious Flight, the story of aviator Louis BlĂ©riot, the first man to fly solo across the English Channel, which they also wrote. The annual award by U.S. professional librarians recognizes the year's "most distinguished American picture book for children". Eight of their books were named to The New York Times annual Ten Best Illustrated Books, including Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm (1974) and An Owl and Three Pussycats (1981). he couple were collaborative illustrators for Donald Waxman's "Pagaents for Piano," a series of pedagogical primers. 
The couple lived for many years at Maple Hill Farm in Dutchess County, New York, which they portrayed in A Year at Maple Hill Farm (1978) as well as Our Animal Friends. Martin died of a heart attack on March 27, 1987, in Staatsburg. Alice continued to live and work at Maple Hill Farm, publishing solo work such as The Buck Stops Here: the Presidents of the United States (1990) and My fellow Americans: a family album (1995), two presentations of people and events from American history (juvenile nonfiction). Punch in New York, published in 1991, is considered her best solo work.The book received several honors and is dedicated to her grandson, Sean.
After turning ninety, Alice made the move from her beloved rustic farm to San Clemente, California to live with her daughter, Karen Mitchell, and her family. Provensen continued working (an addition was added to her daughter's house for a studio) well into her nineties. She died only four months before her 100th birthday.
Learn more about the Provensen's.

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