Book Collecting

Alice and Martin Provensen

Alice and Martin Provensen - Collecting Book Illustrators

Whether you recognize their names or not, you are probably quite familiar with the work of the illustrating team of Alice and Martin Provensen. Together, the couple illustrated more than 40 children’s books, including Little Golden Books.

Alice Provensen was born on August 14, 1917 in Chicago, Illinois, but moved with her family to California when she was twelve. After attending both the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of California, Alice was employed as an animator with the Walter Lantz Studio, the creators of Woody Woodpecker.

Martin Provensen led a similar life. He was born on July 10, 1916, also in Chicago. Without ever meeting Alice, he also moved to California at twelve, and attended the same two schools; the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of California. After graduation, Martin was hired by the Walt Disney Studio, where he worked on now beloved classics like Dumbo, Fantasia, and Pinocchio.

During World War Two, Martin joined the Navy. One of his duties was to create training films for the American military. In 1943, he was assigned to the Walter Lantz Studio where he and Alice finally met. By 1944, they were wed and moved to Washington, D.C. where they continued to apply their art to war-related projects.

The close of WWII found Martin and Alice relocating to New York City. An artist friend, Gustaf Tenggren, helped them to find their first illustration job; The Fireside Book of Folk Songs. From them on, all of the Provensens’ work was a true collaborative effort.

The Provensens illustrated several of the immensely popular children’s good series, Little Golden Books, including The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown in 1949.

Another reason that their unique art style might be recognizable is that Martin designed the Kellogg’s cereal mascot “Tony the Tiger” in 1952.

For many years, the couple lived and worked at Maple Hill Farm in New York. They wrote a few children’s books based on their lovely estate, A Year at Maple Hill Farm in 1978 and Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm in 1974. More recently, Alice published another Maple Hill tale, A Day in the Life of Murphy.

The Provensens continued to produce illustrations for many books throughout the years. In 1982, they were a runner-up for the Caldecott Medal for the illustrations of A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard.

A few years later, they did receive the 1984 Caldecott award for The Glorious Flight, which they also wrote and edited. The Glorious Flight was about an aviator from France named Louis Blériot, the first pilot to fly solo across the English Channel.

Sadly, Martin Provensen passed away from a heart attack in March 1987. Alice Provensen continued working well into her nineties. She died in 2018, only four months before her 100th birthday.