Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Virginia Lee Burton, An Artist Mom

You might already know her without knowing you know her.

Virginia Lee Burton's beloved Tree Swing illustration.
 Cape Ann Historical Association.

The family, Virginia with her husband, artist Geroge Demetrios and their boys Aris and Mike
photo from Costa Maletskos

Virginia Lee Burton(1909-1968), artist, writer, designer, teacher, gardener and mom. She produced some beloved classics such as, The Little House, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Choo Choo. Her books were full of lovely illustrations and lessons in overcoming challenges, honoring the environment and teamwork. She lived a creative life full of song and art in Gloucester Massachusetts with her husband, artist, George Demetrios and their two sons, Aris and Mike.

Here she is at her desk with her typewriter, her art supplies, her books and her music (always playing from what I read). 
Sound familiar? As we sit with at our desks with our computer, our books, our art supplies listening to music from our iPods in their docking stations?
Virginia Lee Burton A Sense of Place is a DVD I own and play often for inspiration and because it is such a great story. There are so many parts of it that stay with you. I love when her sons reminisce about the their fun and creative childhood. It is a wonderful portrait of a joyful creative soul.

Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place trailer
This trailer gives you sense of the documentary.
This Documentary is also available on Netflix for rent. I also found it on iTunes to download for five dollars. Well worth it.

A classic, enjoyed by our children and by us as children. How great is that?

A peek inside The Little House

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is available in many other languages. 
I own this copy in Spanish.

 She often used her own home in illustrations As you can see in the illustration on the left. This one is from the book Life Story. Here you see her garden and orchard. Inside Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, on right.

Houghton Mifflin Company Archives
This barn housed the Folly Cove Designers. The Folly Cove Designers were born from design classes taught by Virginia Lee Burton. These designers were a group of artisans known for their block printed textiles. The barn was a shop, a place for exhibition and a studio producing fabric by the yard, place mats, skirts, aprons and skirts. With Folly Cove you get that she valued a sense of community, so important for artist even now.

Calendar print is indicative of the work Produced by the Folly Cove Designers.
The Swing Tree II. 
Cape Ann Historical Association

My Two Favorites, A Life in Art by Barbara Elleman, published by Houghton Mifflin Company and Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton also published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Life Story  took eight years to produce and she finished it while in ill health.

Learn a bit more about her life and about her books in this video with Anita Silvey.

Here is a selection of block prints depicting times of the year from a 1965 Horn Book Calendar. They make such beautiful illustrations. I have included so many because I am a big fan of block printing in my own work.

My favorite illustration from the cover of A Life in Art by Barbara Elleman published by Houghton Mifflin Company
I so love her tree illustrations.
Needless to say she truly inspires on so many levels. She championed and celebrated creativity, nature and its offerings, beauty in the handmade and the love for her boys. 
Just Brilliant!

Christian Science Monitor
Virgina with her boys Aris and Mike.

All images and content belong to Deborah Velásquez. Copyright 2005-2012.  All rights reserved.
Please do not use anything without permission or without making note of the origin on your blog or website


  1. love, love, love her, and thank you for your post. i did not know all that about her, but just knew her through her children's books which i shared with my children and now with my students. so beautiful, sweet, and loving. you are right - she's inspiring!

  2. I'm looking her up! Thanks for sharing such a great post on an inspirational woman

  3. I had never heard of her, but I really enjoyed your post. She seems like an interesting artist.

  4. I love Mike Mulligan. I used to work in the retail bookstore world and the children's department was my favorite.

  5. I love this post! Love Virginia's work. I know I've seen it as a child.

  6. Thank you so much for this post! I love Virgina's work and The Little House. I had not seen much of the rest of her work though and it is all so lovely. She (and you) inspired me last night to work on a painting I have had sitting for months. Here is my post if you want to see where I am at with the piece: http://kf-creativestash.blogspot.com/2012/01/painting-in-progress-willow-tree-and.html. Thanks again!

  7. Thank you for this lovely post! Such an inspiration, will def. check out the videos! I love block printing too, and the old book illustrations were just wonderful.

  8. Es impresionante su talento, volver a las raíces siempre es maravilloso, siempre nos conecta con lo que éramos, hace poco lo empecé a hacer, poco a poco claro, por ejemplo, prendí la tv y me di cuenta de que hace mucho que no veía, es extraño, pero me gusto, creo que porque encontré una serie que me gusto desde el comercial que vi, se trata de Divorce y me fascino, lo confieso, de las grandes historias que conocemos.


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