Designed & hand-blocked by the Folly Cove Designers opens at Cape Ann Museum
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Designed & hand-blocked by the Folly Cove Designers opens at Cape Ann Museum
Elizabeth Iarrobino (1915-2009). Butterflies, undated. Ink on linen. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum.

GLOUCESTER, MASS.- In early October, the Cape Ann Museum will open a new and expanded exhibition on the acclaimed Folly Cove Designers, made world famous by their leader, designer and author Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios. The exhibit draws from the Museum’s own collection as well as from other repositories in the region and private collections.

The exhibition, Designed & Hand-Blocked by the Folly Cove Designers, will explore the origins of the internationally known group and their unique place in the American Arts & Crafts movement during the first half of the 20th century. It will also spotlight the accomplishments of individual designers and the legacy of the group. The exhibit opens on October 8 and will remain on display through March 19, 2023.

“Of the renowned artists who created lasting Cape Ann legacies, the Folly Cove Designers were foremost among them,” said Oliver Barker, the Museum’s Director. “Their unique designs resonated locally and nationally, and their visionary leader, Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios, cultivated a strong group of predominantly women who have had a lasting imprint on textile and graphic design today. We are thrilled to offer this expanded exhibition so visitors can learn more about these designers and their important place in history.”

The Cape Ann Museum has been collecting objects and archival materials related to the Folly Cove Designers since 1970 and is a major repository for their work. The group was in existence from 1938 to 1969, one of Cape Ann’s longest-lived and most beloved artist collectives. The group was made up largely of women, most being residents of Cape Ann and a majority having no artistic training prior to becoming involved in the group. During their three decades in operation, they participated in 16 museum exhibitions and supplied designs to well-known wholesalers and retailers including Lord & Taylor, F. Schumacher, and Skinner Silks.

Individual designers created original compositions that they cut into linoleum blocks, inked, and printed on fabric. The fabric was then used to make table linens, clothing, and other household items. Individuals trained under Demetrios’ watchful eye critiqued each other’s work and came together to sell their fabrics and to offer printing demonstrations from their barn/studio in Folly Cove.

The designers operated under the leadership of the late Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios (1909-1968), who devised a design course that she offered to her friends and neighbors in the Folly Cove neighborhood in which she urged participants to look at their surroundings for inspiration. She became well-known, even today, for her best-selling children’s books: Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, The Little House, Katy and the Big Snow, Choo Choo, among others.

The Folly Cove Designers functioned in a manner similar to medieval Guilds. Members worked on their own, at their home or in their studios. Once a month, a group meeting was held at which ideas were exchanged and critiques were offered. When Demetrios died in 1968, the Folly Cove Designers ceased operations within a year. As a group, they agreed to stop selling their designs under the name Folly Cove Designers, and in 1970 and they donated their sample books, prints and remnants to the Cape Ann Museum. Since that time, the Museum’s Folly Cove Collection has continued to grow, becoming the single largest repository of work by this talented group of individuals.

This exhibition is presented as part of the Cape Ann Museum’s contribution to Gloucester’s 400+ Anniversary, marking four hundred years since English colonizers first attempted to settle here. Over the course of the year, the Museum is presenting a wide variety of exhibitions and events that both celebrate the best of Cape Ann and also acknowledge the important and complex history of this place stretching back for more than 10,000 years.

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