This past weekend I made a major score when I encountered a long-sought item: a placemat depicting Chestnut Street in Salem made by Louise Kenyon of the Folly Cove Designers in the 1950s or early 1960s. Though it is in rather shabby condition, I snapped it right up, as I have long wanted a piece of Folly Cove and now I have one depicting my own street!
The Folly Cove Designers were a collective of textile artisans working in the Lanesville section of Gloucester, Massachusetts from the 1940s through the 1960s. Inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement and founded by illustrator Virginia Burton Demetrios, the designers carved their own linoleum blocks and produced linens, clothing, and upholstery fabric for their own houses and also for sale. There was a strong educational mission connected to what essentially became a guild: aspiring Folly Cove Designers completed coursework (designed by Demetrios, apparently as innovative an educator as she was an illustrator and designer) as well as a “masterpiece” (a term that originated in the medieval craft guilds), which, if it met with the approval of a jury made up of revolving members of Folly Cove, was produced and offered for sale under the trademark of the Designers.
After Virginia Burton Demetrios’s death in 1969, the guild dissolved, but one of the earliest Folly Cove designers, Sara Elizabeth (Halloran) continued the block printing tradition in Lanesville until her death in 2009. The Sara Elizabeth Shop is still open for business, selling old and new Folly Cove designs on fabric and paper at both their shop and their website, which is also a good source for Folly Cove history and the block printing process.
The printing process: as demonstrated in a 1945 Life article (“Yankee printers get National Recognition”), as well as by the still-working Acorn press at the Sara Elizabeth Shop. Below, Virginia Burton Demetrios and her students/designers from the Life article. The piece in the center (by Demetrios) is called Diploma, because it was given to a new designer, framed, after they had sold their first block print. Note the foot-stomping (or stamping) phase of the production process.
My Chestnut Street print is not really representative of a Folly Cove design, though the guild was indeed made up of individual designers with individual visions. Still, there are a lot of floral and naturalistic themes, and some very whimsical images, particularly of animals. The concentrated Finnish population in mid-twentieth century Lanesville might have asserted a Scandinavian influence on the prints (though they are far from Marimekko!), as several members of this community became Folly Cove designers. On the other hand, some of the patterns look positively Elizabethan to me. The Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester has a very strong Folly Cove collection, including sample books and archival materials as well as textiles (in fact, the Museum recently purchased the block which produced my print). You do run across Folly Cove products in antique shops and at auctions in our area as well: Blackwood/March Auctioneers in Essex always seem to have lots. Essex antiques dealer Andrew Spindler currently has several Folly Cove patterns available in his 1stdibs shop, including one of my favorites, Gossips, and some pillows covered in a perennial favorite, Lazy Daisies.
A few more of my favorite Folly Cove prints: two designs by Zoe Eleftherio and Elizabeth Jarrabind’s Turtles, and (to set the scene) a Maurice Prendergast painting of Folly Cove from 1910-15.