Saturday, November 6

historical look at Folly Cove fabric

  innovator Virginia Lee Burton

Virginia Lee Burton
was a children's book author and illustrator
in the 1930s
but her creativity didn't stop there....
she went on to design fabric in a small enclave of Gloucester, Massachusetts
by using a unique technique of  hand carved linoleum blocks for printing.
Do you know about Folly Cove Fabric? 
Virginia brought together a group of designers; neighbors and housewives in the sleepy fishing town of Gloucester and taught them her unique technique of  block printing fabric, and together they formed a historic guild of artisans
I love Gloucester, Massachusetts!  
my mom's little beach house on Rackliffe Street in Gloucester
My mother lived there for fifteen years in the artist community of Rocky Neck. I've posted pics of her house before but it was juxtaposed on a corner of two streets, each with views of the water.  My mom's home was a pretty little cottage (a former sea captain's home) with a killer garden, and a perfect spot to watch the fishing boats heading out to sea. One of our favorite activities to do together when I visited Gloucester was to drive around the many little communities tucked into the big town of Gloucester and marvel at the beauty: the artist colonies, new england architecture and natural beauty which has been mostly preserved and is still astounding today.  My mother especially loved the curvy streets of Lanesville  set in a country setting.  

At the time, I did not know about the history behind Folly Cove fabric, but was attracted to the interesting Arts and Craft motifs I found in many local shops in the form of paper, notecards and hand towels.  It wasn't until two years ago in East Hampton, Long Island that I learned about Folly Cove.  As I meandered through the local East Hampton antique show set in a bucolic historic farm, I met an antique dealer and collector named Andrew Spindler. Since then, I have written about Andrew's shop, his wares and collections here on Nest and in Dan's Papers magazine.  Andrew has a sophisticated eye for curating unique antiques from various time periods.  I was drawn to two framed works - he informed me about Folly Cove - they were samples of fabric mounted on paper, the originals from the 1940s.  Andrew and I chatted about the amazing history in Gloucester, and the many decorative and fine artists that have long been drawn to the community.  This month's topic of fabric, wallpaper and furniture was a perfect time to bring this story to my viewers.   

INTERESTING HISTORY BEHIND FOLLY COVE -In 1938, Virginia made curtains for her writing studio in Lanesville (northern neighborhood of Gloucester, Massachusetts). She used linoleum because it was an inexpensive way to block the fabric. The designs were cut into the linoleum, inked, and then printed on cotton fabric. At the time, Jinnee (Virginia's nickname ) did not own a press so she simply jumped up and down on the block to print on the fabric.  After her neighbor admired the curtains and asked for a block printing lesson, Virginia began to teach the process to other neighbors. Two years later in 1940, the textile collective, The Folly Cove Designers, was established. 

Interestingly enough, Virginia styled her newly formed guild after a medieval guild, and the Folly Cove Designers departed from the tradition of signing their work with the guild's crest or  signature and instead opted to include the individual artist's name, giving a personal touch to the work.  In 1943, the Guild acquired Acorn presses used to pull prints and no longer resorted to jumping on the blocks.  

Soon, Virginia's course became a popular, yet serious journey for those lucky enought to attend her classes.  Once the design was submitted to a jury of designers and approved, it was displayed in their studio and part of the prestigious Collection.  This guild of artists became celebrities of sorts in the sleepy fishing town, and their local annual exhibition presenting their latest designs became recognized beyond New England.  Soon, their works were being offered to the America House of New York, established by the American Craftsman Cooperative Council.   New York was taking notice:  the department store Lord & Taylor bought the rights to five designs in 1945.  The Guild opened a retail outlet called "The Barn" in 1948 to sell their wares in Gloucester during the summer months. Sadly, with Virginia's death in 1969 the Guild ended this cooperative of innovative and unique collaboration of women. A local non-profit oranization, The Cape Ann Historical Association in Gloucester is now the primary source for information about the Folly Cove Designers.

Folly Cove - a distinct fabric with repetitive patterns

Virginia brought together an interesting group of creative women, formed a guild in the 1940's in a sleepy sea village

Virginia's Inspiration...
Virginia was inspired by the surrounding beauty in nature. She encouraged her designers to take from the local Cape Ann environment - the flowers, ocean and all that surrounded them in the sleepy fishing village.  There was repititon, various sizes and juxtapositions of black and white in her fabrics. There was a strong emphasis on the artistry and craftmanship of carving the linoleum and later printing. Their art was commissioned individually, but the guild was also producing useful and beautiful home products as well - wallpapers, draperies, tablecloths, hand towels and more.  

Folly Cove designers came about during a renewed interest in the Arts and Crafts movement that had started in the 1800s in England.  Life magazine featured a story about the Guild in 1945.  They went on to host many exhibit throughout the United States.  Today, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem have works of The Folly Cove Designers. The Print Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired samples of The Folly Cove Designers wallpaper. However, the largest holding of The Folly Cove Designers work is at The Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester. They are on display in The Folly Cove Auditorium - 
Vogue magazine ran a story several years ago which regenerated more interest in the fabric - link to the Vogue story

 see behind the pitchfork some of Andrew's collections of Folly Cove. 
Here is his booth at this past summer's Mulford Farm Antique Show in East Hampton. 

Archivally framed.
Height: 16 7/8”
Width: 21 3/8”

 Interested in Folly Cove? 
If so, visit with antique dealer and historian Andrew Spindler at his lovely shop in Essex, Massachusetts when in the area-
Andrew is one of the largest collectors and dealers of Folly Cove  

see below - history and photograph material curated from the following sources:


My Dog-Eared Pages said...

T, this is a wonderful post about Folly Cove. I love the pine print! Will visit Andrew's shop the next time I'm in Essex. I think I've walked by your mom's cottage many times?! ox Barbara

Art Style said...

I used to head to Essex for Periwinkle's before heading to Ipswich, but now I will stop by Spindler's place.

Burton's "Sentimental" print is catching. The way she fused narrative to design is striking, rhythmic.

Wonder if Spindler will be open over Thanksgiving, the next time I'll be in Cape Ann? Thanks, Tamara, for a great post!

Anonymous said...

I live in Essex and never knew about this fabric but I do love Virginia Burton's books and they are my childrens favorites. I will stop by the antique shop and keep my eyes open for the pretty patterns of Folly Cove now. all the way from New York I learn about my little area and thank you. sincerely, debra

Crazy Sweet Life said...

Congrats on the nod from HGTV (my favorite channel)!

Crazy Sweet Life said...

Congrats on the nod from HGTV (my favorite channel)!

Emma Howard said...

Virginia Lee Burton's beginnings as a foster child turned ballet dancer,then artist and author was absolutely fascinating to read.

Each of the timeless lino block prints gorgeous,inspiring to me.The members of the guild did not detract from nature,kept the prints clean using one color on white.

Very excited to follow your blog and read/view your other posts.

Thank you,

Emma Howard

Kathe Fraga said...

I love this story about Folly Cove! I had no idea the Guild was started by Virginia Lee Burton, one of our most beloved children's book authors. I can't tell you how many times we read "The Little House" to our kids. Just adored her illustrative style. Thank you Tamara for this new insight into "Jinee's" wonderful and cretive life. I would sure like to visit Andrew's store--you've made a Folly Cove collector out of me!

Anonymous said...

Tamara--Wonderful post about the Folly Cove Designers! Thank you! I will be exhibiting at the Peabody Essex Museum Antiques Show in nearby Salem over Thanksgiving weekend ( and my shoo will be closed, but I hope people will come visit me at the show which is nearby and in a fascinating and beautiful museum ( Look forward to your coming 'home' to Gloucester one of these days! Would love to have you and your family over in my little corner of paradise. Thanks again for your interest and wonderful support. I am most grateful.
Happy Thanksgiving! -Andrew (Spindler)