Virginia Lee Burton's life may bring to mind a steam shovel and a man called Mike Mulligan, a charming little house, and a snow plow named Katy. Yet to speak only of Burton's achievements as a picture book creator would be to paint only part of the canvas of her life. She was also a dancer, an illustrator for an early Boston newspaper, and a musician, designer, sculptor, and printmaker. Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art, by author and well-known children's literature expert Barbara Elleman, is an inspiring introduction to the exuberant life, art, and books of this truly extraordinary woman.
Together with her husband, George Demetrios, Virginia enjoyed a full life. In a small community located outside of Gloucester, Massachusetts, they raised two sons, gardened, kept sheep, entertained friends, and taught art and design classes. Led by Burton, these design classes, which were composed of local artists, evolved into the Folly Cove Designers. A cooperative of sorts, this internationally known group created elaborately intricate designs of rural scenes and other natural elements, which they would carve onto linoleum and print onto fabrics. Simultaneously, Burton began her career in children's book writing and illustration. The early success of her first books, Choo Choo, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and The Little House, which received the 1943 Caldecott Medal, was an auspicious beginning for Burton. These same books, along with others she created throughout her career, have now become classics, as well as lasting examples of the fine art of children's book creation.
Barbara Elleman spent nearly four years interviewing family members, colleagues, and members of the Folly Cove community, as well as collecting archival illustrations, examples of Burton's Folly Cove designs, and never-before-published family photographs. The end product of her careful research is an intimate portrait of a remarkable woman who successfully juggled the demands of family and a full-time career as an award-winning children's book creator and an internationally known fabric designer.