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Aino Clarke: Jazz Age (Photograph by Peter Morse, image courtesy of Peter and Bobbi Kovner)

The creative legacy of Folly Cove Designers.

Folly Cove: The Community through creativity.

From about 1941 to 1969 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and almost entirely comprised of women block printers, the artists of the Folly Cove Designers comprised one of America’s longest-running collectives.

The Folly Cove Designers residents of Cape Ann and a majority having no artistic training prior to becoming involved in the group, except for their leader Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios. Virginia studied printmaking as a teen, under printmaker Robert Hestwood, attended California School of Fine Arts, and became a published author and illustrator before she founded the Folly Cove Designers in 1941.

Virgina devised a design course which she offered to her friends and neighbors in the Folly Cove neighborhood. Participants were urged by Demetrios to look to their surroundings for inspiration, to draw “what they knew” and to sketch their subjects over and over again until they made them their own.

About 40 “mostly woman” artisans met and worked in a small building in Gloucester, called “The Barn”, and became relief printmakers. They designed and printed on fabric that was sewn into curtains, clothes, and housewares.

Many of the women in the group were college-educated, professional, working mothers at a time when research indicates that most women spent fifty hours a week on housework. “Like other women, they did set the table for their families every night, only they did so while wearing aprons that they had personally designed, carved into linoleum blocks, printed, and sewn themselves. The women of the Folly Cove Designers forged their own roles in the world, something that today’s female printmakers find highly relatable.”

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Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios: Finnish Hop (Photograph by Gary Lowell. Courtesy of Sandy Bay Historical Society.)

They produced more than three hundred distinct designs, which they block printed on fabric. The designs conveyed personal and regional narratives through the use of shared design principles and the compelling language of pattern.

The group was propelled to international fame through commercial contracts with major retailers (F. Schumacher, Lord & Taylor, etc.), articles in leading periodicals such as Life, and participation in seminal fine craft exhibitions. Their work continues to inspire contemporary printmakers around the globe, particularly women printmakers.

Currently The Cape Ann Museum houses has the largest collection of work by the Folly Cove Designers, from 1938 to 1969.

A new book celebrates the Massachusetts creative group, who worked together in the 1940s-70s, using pattern design to express their distinct personal view.

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