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Virginia Lee Burton
Virginia Lee Burton (August 30, 1909 – October 15, 1968), also known by her married name, Virginia Demetrios, was an American illustrator and children's book author. She wrote and illustrated seven children's books, including The Little House (1943), which won the Caldecott Medal. She also illustrated six books by other authors.
Burton founded the textile collective, Folly Cove Designers, in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, which had numerous museum exhibitions. Some of its members' works are held today in the collections of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, the Cape Ann Museum, and New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Early life and education
Virginia Burton was born in Newton Centre, Massachusetts and called "Jinnee" as a child. Her mother was Lena Yates, a lyric poet and artist from England, who had her first poem published at age 20 and published children's books under the name Lena Dalkeith. She later took the name Jeanne D’Orge. She was 30 years younger and the second wife of her husband, Alfred E. Burton, an engineer and the first Dean for Student Affairs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1902-1921), reporting to the president. They married in 1906, after meeting on a walking trip in France. Alfred Burton had been widowed.
Virginia had an older sister, Christine, and younger brother, Alexander Ross Burton in addition to their father's first two sons, Harold Hitz and Felix Arnold Burton. She recounted their boisterous holiday celebrations, and singing, dancing and theatrical productions as children. Harold became an attorney, politician and Supreme Court Justice; and Arnold an architect.
When Virginia was about 8 years old, her family moved to San Diego, California, as the New England winters were hard on her mother's health. Her father, close to his retirement in 1921 after 40 years at MIT, took a leave of absence. A year later the family settled 450 miles north in Carmel-by-the-Sea, then a small, artistic community. Burton and her sister took dance and art lessons, performing in local productions. Her parents divorced in 1925, and her father returned to Boston.
After attending local schools, Burton won a state scholarship to the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, where she studied both art and dance. Living in Alameda across the bay while attending art school, she used the long commute by train, ferry boat and cable car "to train myself in making quick sketches from life and from memory of my unaware fellow passengers."
Return to East Coast
In 1928, after a year at art school, Burton moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where her father was living. It was also closer to her sister, by then a dancer in New York City, who invited Virginia to join her. Their father broke his leg, and Burton stayed in Boston to help him. She found work as a "sketcher" for the newspaper, Boston Evening Transcript. (now defunct). For two-and-a-half years, she worked under its drama and music critic. Portraying actors and other performers, she signed her drawings as "VleeB".
In fall 1930, Burton enrolled in a Saturday morning drawing class taught by sculptor and artist George Demetrios at the Boston Museum School. By spring the two artists were married. For a year, the couple lived in Lincoln, where their first son Aristides (called Ari) was born. They moved to the Folly Cove neighborhood of Gloucester. Their second son Michael was born in nearby Groton on Burton's birthday in 1935.
Burton said her first published book, Choo Choo (1935), about an anthropomorphic train engine, reflected strategy she learned from reactions to her first book, which was not published:
She was known for designing the whole work: design, illustration, typeface, and space. She said first she made her drawings or preliminary sketches, then she wrote the story, as it came first to her in images. Her papers include the "numerous preparatory sketches, the reworking of illustrations that had not proven personally satisfactory to [her], and the demands for quality reproduction of the artwork [that] indicate her meticulous attention to detail." Her books were known for their themes of "importance of teamwork, environmental awareness, perseverance, and adapting to change while still recognizing the importance of the past."
In 1941, Burton founded the textile collective, Folly Cove Designers, in Cape Ann, Massachusetts and designed some of the textiles. Its works were included in arts and crafts exhibitions of the 1940s and 1950s. It reflected the earlier Arts and Crafts Movement of the 19th century, "both in its union of design and production and in the formation as a cooperative guild. The linoleum block print designs for domestic items were innovative and unique, bringing recognition and accolades to the group." The group sold some of their textiles to major retailers such as Lord & Taylor, F. Schumacher, Rich’s of Atlanta and Skinner Silks.
They had 16 museum exhibitions and some of their works are held in the collections of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, and New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Burton died on October 15, 1968 of lung cancer.
Aristides Burton Demetrios is a sculptor of figurative and abstract works, ranging from large public commissions to private pieces for gardens. Michael Burton Demetrios is a businessman, leading Marine World Africa in its numerous locations in the United States. Since 1998 he has been president of Intra-Asia, a US company with two amusement parks in China and plans for five additional.
Awards and legacy
Houghton Mifflin published the seven books which Burton wrote and illustrated:
Illustrated by Burton
In popular culture