I gave this book as a gift to a dear friend who is immersed in children’s literature … and she gave it to me. Our birthdays are only days apart, so we were both tuned in to how delightful this book would be. Of course, each of us knew how much the other person admired the art of this husband-and-wife illustration team, Martin and Alice Provenson.
There are many fascinating insights into the life and art of the Provensons, written by their daughter Karen Provenson Mitchell, who arguably knew them best. She shares Alice’s and Martin’s early history until they meet at Walter Lantz Productions (think Woody Woodpecker), Martin on a military training film and Alice working as an animator. Martin had previously worked at Walt Disney Studios.
“It was here, [at Disney and Walter Lantz, that] we began to tell stories with pictures. It was here we learned to work with other artists and truly it was here that we learned to draw. Animated films require hundreds and hundreds of drawings. There is no better way to learn — no better art school.”
There are many black-and-white photos of the couple and pages from their sketchbooks. I found myself poring over them, noticing details, line, composition, color palette. (There’s even a picture of Martin’s palette.)
You will know Alice and Martin Provenson from their Golden Books, particularly The Color Kittens, published in 1949, and from their Caldecott Medal book, The Glorious Flight Across the Channel with Louis Blériot, awarded in 1984. Their acceptance speech is included in its entirety.
There’s an article published by the American Library Association in 1985, in which Alice addresses their collaboration,
“It is in this area that a trusted collaborator is of immense value. The making of picture books for children, as I have tried to suggest, is a complex skill. The act of collaboration means putting the book ahead of one’s vanity, one’s artistic ego. At the same time, a collaborator bolsters one’s own sense of security — helps one avoid mistakes. The presence of an experienced, perceptive fellow artist, who is able to recognize the wrong turnings and the wrong directions, saves an enormous amount of wasted time. It also makes the process of book-making more interesting, more fluid and more meaningful.”
Leonard S. Marcus provides a historical perspective about the duo’s published books.
The Provensons’ close friend Robert Gottlieb shares his memories of the two and their times at Maple Hill Farm.
The majority of the book is page after page after page of the illustrations from their books. I can lose myself for hours in them. Thankfully, the book includes illustrations from the many books that Alice Provenson created on her own after Martin died in 1987. She lived until 2018, working into her nineties.
In the back matter, you’ll find covers from each of their books, presented as the bibliography.
Every children’s literature enthusiast deserves this book as a gift, whether from a friend or from yourself. I will treasure it always. Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite Provenson book. We’ll be unabashed fans together.