Working together from about 1941 to 1969 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and almost entirely comprised of women block printers, the artists of the Folly Cove Designers comprised one of America’s longest-running collectives. The pioneering group produced hundreds of unique designs, and a new book by Elena M. Sarni from Princeton Architectural Press titled Trailblazing Women Printmakers: Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios and the The Folly Cove Designersdetails the group’s prolific history and extensive works.
Led by acclaimed children’s book author Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios, the collective functioned similarly to a medieval craft guild. Artists would convene regularly for classes on design and technique and also hone their skills individually, either at home or in the studio. Afterwards, jurors assessed their designs, and upon approval, the works proceeded to the printing stage.
Cut from linoleum and block-printed onto mainly fabric, each design tells a story. Members were constantly urged to draw inspiration from their surroundings, whether depicting a musical performance, the local college campus, or kitchen utensils and ingredients. Each artist shared personal narratives and familiar scenes. According to the Cape Ann Museum, which houses the largest collection of work by the Folly Cove Designers, Demetrios encouraged artists to “draw ‘what they knew’ and to sketch their subjects over and over again until they made them their own.” Each intricate print documented daily life, giving voice to women’s stories.
Find your copy of Trailblazing Women Printmakers on Bookshop.
Eino Natti, “Polyphemus.” Photo by Gary Lowell, courtesy of Sandy Bay Historical Society
Louise Kenyon, “Head of the Cove.” Photo by Peter Morse, courtesy of Peter and Bobbi Kovner
Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios, “Robin Hood.” Hood. Photo by Gary Lowell, courtesy of Sandy Bay Historical Society
Aino Clarke, “Atomic Age.” Courtesy of Cape Ann Museum
Louise Kenyon, “Smith College.” Photo by Peter Morse, courtesy of Peter and Bobbi Kovner
Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios, “Finnish Hop.” Photo by Gary Lowell, courtesy of Sandy Bay Historical Society
Lee Natti, “Old Sturbridge Country Store.” Photo by Gary Lowell, courtesy of Kathryn Soucy
Group portrait of the Folly Cove Designers, courtesy of Cape Ann Museum