30 November 2008


Ever since I was a little girl we've had tea towels and placemats made by the Folly Cove Designers. I still have a gorgeous set of "Head of the Cove" placemats that must be 40 or 50 years old.

After the black friday crush at the Rockport Art Association my mom and I did some more Christmas shopping in Rockport with stops at John Tarr, N. Cassel, Toad Hall and the Paper Mermaid. This sure beats the Northshore Mall!

After I dropped my mom at her noon train back to Manchester I decided to head next door to the Whistlestop Mall's #1 treasure...Sarah Elizabeth Block Printing. Isabel Natti is the artisan at the helm of this tiny little shop. When I stopped by she was not there...and her shop was in the capable hands of her companion Italo from Rome. I was thrilled to find all sorts of holiday cards and other affordable gifties.

The Sarah Elizabeth Shop has been in Rockport, Massachusetts for 30 years. Sarah Elizabeth Holloran had been a member of the Folly Cove Designers for twenty-seven years. After the Designers disbanded in 1969 she decided to continue blockprinting and in 1974 opened the Sarah Elizabeth Shop. Latter that year Isabel Natti joined her as an apprentice.

The Folly Cove Designers was a group taught design by Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios. They used what they learned to design, and then carve, linoleum blocks to print on fabrics for place mats, runners, hangings, tablecloths, skirts, and yardgoods for practical uses. They started in 1938, over the years including more than forty artists in their guild-like association. No works were signed, everyone putting the group first. When their teacher died in 1968, the remaining designers decided to disband. The sample books, long yard-good hangings, and related material which remained in their retail outlet (the Barn) were given to the Cape Ann Historical Museum in Gloucester, where they can be seen to this day.

Sarah Elizabeth Johnson Holloran was born in Gloucester in 1917. She attended Gloucester schools, graduating with the Class of 1935. After attending Bradford College she studied fashion design and illustration at the Vesper George School of Art in Boston. In 1942 she took Virgia Lee Burton's design course and had her work accepted by the Folly Cove Designer's jury, carved the design in lino, thus becoming a Folly Cove Designer. She continued with them until their end in 1969.

Isabel Natti was born in 1946 at Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, Massachusetts to a Lanesville family. The community which existed in Lanesville in the mid-twentieth century shared certain values with the Folly Cove Designers. First was to be aware. From awareness could come observation and perception. Once perceived, then beauty could be created. It was in the awareness of nature that this community found inspiration.

She learned blockprinting at home from her father. He was interested in designs and illustration to supplement his translation of the Kalevala. As a child she watched her Aunt Lee Natti printing, and shared the excitement of the family when her Uncle Eino Natti got the Acorn press. Isabel started blockprinting as a week-end job, and now, after thirty years continues to print the linoleum blocks she has designed and carved at the Sarah Elizabeth Shop.

History of the Folly Cove Designers

The Folly Cove Designers grew out of a design course taught by Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios. She lived in Folly Cove, the most northerly part of Lanesville, Gloucester, Massachusetts. She was able to express the local consensus that the world was a beautiful place, and the elements of beauty surround us in nature.

Her block printing thesis grew out of the home industries/arts and crafts movements of the past. The artist/designer of products for home use is separated from the product by machine age technology (and now globalization). Fine art for home use is within our own power. To this end her design course taught an ability to see the design in nature, a set of good design rules (dark and light, sizing, repetition, reflection, etc.), and the craftsmanship of carving the linoleum, and then printing fabric for home use.

On completion of the course the graduate was permitted to submit a design to the jury(selected Designers rotated this responsibility starting in 1943) of the Folly Cove Designers. If it was accepted as displaying the design qualities as taught in the course, then they could carve the design in linoleum and print it for sale as a Folly Cove Design.

The design course started in 1938. In 1940 they had their first public exhibition-in the Demetrios studio. The following year they decided to go public, they called themselves the Folly Cove Designers. Every year they had an opening to present the new designs, and everyone enjoyed the coffee and nisu (Finnish coffee bread). They established a relationship to wholesale their work to the America House of New York which had been established in 1940 by the American Craftsman Cooperative Council. In 1944 they hired Dorothy Norton as an executive secretary to run the business end of the successful young enterprise. In 1945, Lord and Taylor bought non-exclusive rights to five designs which pushed the reputation of the group, and began some national publicity and diverse commissions for their work.

The Home Industries shop in Rockport, Massachusetts, owned by the Tolfords, sold the Designer's work to the public starting in 1943. It wasn't until 1948 that the Designers opened "The Barn" in Folly Cove as their own summer retail outlet. In the late 1950's they extended the season to ten months. Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios died in 1969. The following year the group disbanded, ending a period of unique creativity and cooperation. Some Designers were with the group for only a season and others continued with the group for decades. In 1970 the sample books, display hangings and other artifacts from the Folly Cove Designer's Barn were given to the Cape Ann Historical Association in Gloucester, Massachusetts who are now the primary source for information about the Folly Cove Designers.

(history from www.sarah-elizabeth-shop.com note that i'm having trouble with the hotlink function on blogspot. Urgh)
(also make sure to check out www.capeannhistoricalmuseum.org/decorative/folly_cove.htm for more info!)

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