Martin Elias Provensen
Born in Chicago
(July 10, 1916 – March 27, 1987)
Alice Rose Twitchell Provensen
Born in Chicago
(August 14, 1918 – April 23, 2018)
Alice and Martin Provensen were born in Chicago and both received scholarships to the Art Institute of Chicago. They moved with their families to California when they were twelve. After attending courses at various University of California campuses, they both worked in the cartoon studios of Hollywood. Alice worked as an animator with Walter Lantz Studio, creator of Woody Woodpecker, and Martin did model design and story board work for Walt Disney Studio, where he collaborated on Dumbo, Fantasia, and Pinocchio etc.
They met in 1943, when Martin, who was then in the Photo Science Laboratory of the US Navy, was assigned to Walter Lantz Studio to help create training films for the military. They married the following year and lived in Washington, D.C. with Martin working for the US Navy and Alice working for the Office of Strategic Services. When the war ended, they decided to try children’s book illustration and moved to New York City. The Provensen’s first picture book was The Fireside Book of Folk Songs, published in 1947. Following that, they illustrated several Little Golden Books, including The Color Kittens and The Fuzzy Duckling as well as The Fireside Cook Book by James Beard.
In 1951, the Provensens moved to Maple Hill Farm in Dutchess County, New York, where they happily collaborated on children’s book illustration in their studio located in the barn on the farm. They illustrated over fifty books together including A Child’s Garden of Verses, The Animal Fair, Iliad and the Odyssey, Myths and Legends, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Aesop’s Fables, Tales from the Ballet and many more. They also created their own texts to illustrate various books, including Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm and The Year at Maple Hill Farm which captured life on their beloved farm in Dutchess County.
Alice and Martin Provensen worked side by side for forty- three years, creating memorable award-winning picture books as a team. Their book, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn (1982), was named a Caldecott Honor Book for illustration and won the Newbery Award for poetry by Nancy Willard. The Glorious Flight, which they wrote as well as illustrated about the life of aviator, Louis Bleriot, was the winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1984.
Since Martin’s death in 1987, Alice wrote and illustrated her own work, including The Buck Stops Here, Punch in New York, My Fellow Americans, A Day in the Life of Murphy and Klondike Gold. In 2008, after turning ninety, Alice moved to San Clemente, California, to live with her daughter, Karen Provensen Mitchell, and her family. Provensen continued doing artistic work well into her nineties. She died four months before her 100th birthday in 2018.
Their work was also on the New York Times’ annual list of “Ten Best Illustrated Books” nine times, and they were honored with the Art Books for Children citation of the Brooklyn Museum (1975). In addition, they were honored by the Society of Illustrators, being inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2000 as well as receiving their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.There have been two retrospective exhibitions of the Provensen’s careers. The first was held by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Massachusetts in 2005. The second exhibition was held at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Texas in 2015.