Provensen, Alice 1918-
PROVENSEN, Alice 1918-
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "Proh-ven-sen"; born August 14, 1918, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Jay Horace (a broker) and Kathryn (an interior decorator) Twitchell; married Martin Elias Provensen (a writer and illustrator of children's books), April 17, 1944 (died, March 27, 1987); children: Karen Anna. Ethnicity: "White." Education: Studied at Art Institute of Chicago, University of California—Los Angeles, and Art Students League (New York, NY). Politics: Independent. Religion: Agnostic. Hobbies and other interests: Dogs, reading, music.
ADDRESSES: Home—134 East Meadowbrook Ln., Staatsburg, NY 12580. Agent—George Nicholson, Sterling Lord Literistic, 65 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012.
CAREER: Writer and illustrator of children's books. Walter Lantz Studios, Hollywood, CA, employed in animation, 1942-43; Office of Strategic Services, Washington, DC, graphics, 1943-45. Exhibitions: With husband, Martin Provensen, at the Baltimore Museum, 1954, American Institute of Graphic Arts (New York, NY), 1959, and Botolph Group (Boston, MA), 1964.
AWARDS, HONORS: With husband, Martin Provensen: books represented in Fifty Books of the Year Selections, American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1947, 1948, and 1952; New York Times Best Illustrated Book citation, 1952, for The Animal Fair, 1953, for The Golden Bible for Children: The New Testament, 1959, for The First Noel: The Birth of Christ from the Gospel According to St. Luke, and 1963, for Karen's Curiosity; Gold Medal, Society of Illustrators, 1960; New York Herald Tribune Children's Spring Book Festival honor, 1963, for Karen's Opposites; Art Books for Children listing, 1975, for My Little Hen; New York Times Best Illustrated Book citation and Outstanding Book citation, both 1976, and Art Books for Children listing, 1978 and 1979, all for The Mother Goose Book; New York Times Best Illustrated Book citation and Outstanding Book citation, both 1978, and Art Books for Children listing, 1979, all for A Peaceable Kingdom: The Shaker Abecedarius; Golden Kite honor, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 1981, Newbery Award, American Library Association (ALA), 1982, Caldecott Honor Book citation, 1982, ALA, and Boston Globe/Horn Book citation, 1982, all for A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers, written by Nancy Willard; New York Times Outstanding Book citation and Parents' Choice citation, both 1983, and Caldecott Medal, ALA, 1984, all for The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Blériot, July 25, 1909. Awards for Alice Provensen: Parenting Best Books of the Year, 1990, and National Parenting Publication Award, 1991, both for The Buck Stops Here: The Presidents of the United States; Parenting Best Books of the Year, and New York Times Best Illustrated Book citation, both 1991, both for Punch in New York; Parenting Best Books of the Year, and National Parenting Publication Award, both 1998, both for Count on Me; Parenting Best Books of the Year, 2001, for The Master Swordsman and the Magic Doorway: Two Legends from Ancient China; New York Times Best Illustrated Book citation, 2003, for A Day in the Life of Murphy. September 29, 2003, was named Alice Provensen Day by the town of Clinton, NY, in recognition of her contributions to children's literature.
The Buck Stops Here: The Presidents of the UnitedStates, Harper (New York, NY), 1990.
Punch in New York, Viking (New York, NY), 1991.
My Fellow Americans: A Family Album, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995.
Count on Me (board books; boxed set, includes TheBook of Babies, The Book of Traffıc, The Book of the Farm, The Book of Children, The Book of Birds, The Book of Fruit, The Book of Flying High, The Book of Insects, The Book of Silly Soup, and The Book of Berries), Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1998.
(Reteller) The Master Swordsman and The MagicDoorway: Two Legends from Ancient China (picture book), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.
A Day in the Life of Murphy, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
self-illustrated; for children; with husband, martin provensen
The Animal Fair, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1952.
Karen's Curiosity, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1963.
Karen's Opposites, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1963.
What Is a Color?, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1967.
Who's in the Egg?, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1970.
(Editors) Provensen Book of Fairy Tales, Random House (New York, NY), 1971.
Play on Words, Random House (New York, NY), 1972.
My Little Hen, Random House (New York, NY), 1973.
Roses Are Red, Are Violets Blue?: A First Book about Color, Random House (New York, NY), 1973.
Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, Random House (New York, NY), 1974, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2001.
The Mother Goose Book, Random House (New York, NY), 1976.
A Book of Seasons, Random House (New York, NY), 1976.
The Year at Maple Hill Farm, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1978, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2001.
A Horse and a Hound, a Goat and a Gander, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1980.
An Owl and Three Pussycats, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1981.
The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with LouisBlériot, July 25, 1909, Viking (New York, NY), 1983.
Leonardo da Vinci: The Artist, Inventor, Scientist inThree-Dimensional, Movable Pictures, paper engineering by John Strejan, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.
Town and Country, Crown (New York, NY), 1984.
Shaker Lane, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.
illustrator; with husband, martin provensen
Margaret Bradford Boni, editor, Fireside Book of Folk-songs, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1947.
Dorothy Bennett, editor, The Golden Mother Goose, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1948.
Jane Werner Watson, Mr. Noah and His Family, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1948.
Jane Werner Watson, The Fuzzy Duckling, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1949, Golden Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Margaret Wise Brown, The Color Kittens, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1949, Golden Books (New York, NY), 2003.
James A. Beard, Fireside Cook Book, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1949.
Kathryn and Byron Jackson, Katie the Kitten, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1949.
Kathryn Jackson, The Golden Circus, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1950.
Rachel Learnard, Funny Bunny, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1950.
Margaret Wise Brown and Edith Thacher Hurd, TheLittle, Fat Policeman, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1950.
Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child's Garden of Verses, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1951.
Elsa Jane Werner, adapter, The Golden Bible forChildren: The New Testament, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1953.
Margaret Bradford Boni, editor, Fireside Book of Lovesongs, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1954.
Jan Werner Watson, adapter, Iliad and Odyssey, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1956.
Anne Terry White, adapter, Treasury of Myths and Legends, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1959.
The First Noel: The Birth of Christ from the GospelAccording to St. Luke, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1959.
George Wolfson, editor, Shakespeare: Ten Great Plays, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1962.
Jane Bunche, An Introduction to the Instruments of theOrchestra (with record), Golden Press (New York, NY), 1962.
Bryna and Louis Untermeyer, editor, Legendary Animals, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1963.
Lord Alfred Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1964.
Louis Untermeyer, adapter, Aesop's Fables, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1965.
Louis Untermeyer, editor, Fun and Nonsense, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1967.
Louis Untermeyer, adapter, Tales from the Ballet, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1968.
Sarah Catherine Martin, Old Mother Hubbard, Random House (New York, NY), 1977.
A Peaceable Kingdom: The Shaker Abecedarius, Viking (New York, NY), 1978.
Walter Dean Myers, The Golden Serpent, Viking (New York, NY), 1980.
Nancy Willard, A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1981.
D. H. Lawrence, Birds, Beasts, and the Third Thing: Poems, Viking (New York, NY), 1982.
Nancy Willard, The Voyage of the Ludgate Hill:Travels with Robert Louis Stevenson, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1987.
Old Mother Goose and Other Nursery Rhymes, Western (Racine, WI), 1988.
SIDELIGHTS: Alice Provensen has earned a reputation as a respected author and illustrator of children's books, both in her solo work and in projects with her late husband, Martin Provensen. With Martin, she created over forty picture books, self-illustrating their own titles or the works of others. Highly regarded for the originality and excellence of their illustrations, the Provensens won a Caldecott Medal in 1984 for The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Blériot, July 25, 1909. Realistic and charming in detail, their illustrations invite visual exploration and encourage a child's imagination. The Provensens also received numerous awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the Society of Illustrators, and their work has frequently been cited for excellence by the New York Times.
After her husband's death in 1987, Alice Provensen thought for a time of giving up children's books, but publication in 1990 of her own self-illustrated title, The Buck Stops Here: The Presidents of the United States, announced the beginning of a new solo career for her. Since that time, Provensen has produced several more self-illustrated titles, including award winners such as Punch in New York, The Master Swordsman and the Magic Doorway: Two Legends from Ancient China, and the 2003 title, A Day in the Life of Murphy.
Coincidentally, the lives of Alice and Martin Provensen followed similar paths prior to their meeting. Both were born in Chicago and grew up appreciating the art of book illustration; both won scholarships to the Art Institute of Chicago, transferring later to the University of California; and both developed training in motion pictures. Martin began working for Walt Disney Studios, and after studying for a while in New York City at the Art Students League, Alice returned to California where she worked for Walter Lantz Studios. They met on a movie lot while working for a film for the U.S. Navy, and married in Washington, DC, in 1944. During the late 1940s, the Provensens moved to New York City and began to jointly illustrate children's books. They traveled throughout Europe in the early 1950s and collected much material for future illustrations.
Upon returning to the United States, they purchased a farm near Staatsburg, New York, where they converted a barn into the studio in which they worked for more than thirty years. Maple Hill Farm supplied the Provensens with many subjects, especially the animal illustrations for such books as The Year at Maple Hill Farm and Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm. Calling Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm "very satisfying, like a weekend at the farm," George A. Woods indicated in the New York Times Book Review that "the Provensens haven't scrubbed everything clean for young visitors either." Author Nancy Willard visited the Provensens' farm in 1983 for an interview in the Lion and the Unicorn, where she recorded Martin as saying, "I would hate to think that we are overly sentimental in our relationships with animals. We do recognize that animals are animals, and we find their presence rewarding. We also recognize that some people don't. . . . But I do think animals have a great deal to teach people."
Discussing the influence upon their work by a shared background in film, Martin indicated to Willard that "it was ideal training for book illustrating. Year after year, we would sit together in a sort of assembly line to do story boards, which were really walls of drawings. . . . It was great training because we'd be given a sequence, the barest outline, just a thread of narrative, and then it was up to us to improvise on this theme." In response to Willard's observation that some of the pages of the "Maple Hill Farm" books are organized as a film might be sequenced in a series of frames, Martin agreed that the concepts of sequence and time are vital in illustrating a children's book: "There's no way to beat that way of telling a story, short of going into film."
In their acceptance speech upon winning the Caldecott Medal in 1984 for The Glorious Flight, the Provensens indicated that while each children's book has presented a special challenge, The Glorious Flight was "not just another book." Building upon their own fascination with airplanes, the Provensens decided to tell the story of Louis Blériot, who flew the English Channel in 1909. "He was a lovable, wonderful man as well as one of the great pioneers of aviation," declared the Provensens in a Horn Book printing of the speech. "Unskilled as a pilot, untutored as a designer (there were no teachers), he had to learn in the air. He was incredibly brave and enormously ingenious. His contraptions flapped, skipped, and sailed ponderously into that new element—the sky." Calling it "a quiet, modest book this, but a perfect example of how a picture-book should be made, in attention to detail and in subordination to an overall design," Marcus Crouch commented in a Junior Bookshelf review that "it could not be bettered." Pointing out that the Provensens have taken simple, factual information and personalized it, a Booklist reviewer commented that they have "added magnificent illustrations, and thus transformed the facts into a vibrant piece of history. . . . Cheers for Blériot, cheers for the Provensens." Or as, Zena Sutherland stated in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, "What more can one ask of a book than it be visually stunning, entertainingly written, and informative, and true?"
With their 1984 Town and Country, the Provensens provided an "intimate description of urban and rural life," as Martha V. Parravano noted in a Horn Book Guide review. Their view of the city makes urban spaces seem as enjoyable as the country with visits to the museums, libraries, and zoos. Another self-illustrated collaborative effort, An Owl and Three Pussycats is an "affectionate, amusing account," according to Parravano, again writing in Horn Book Guide, telling a story about an owl and another one about three orphaned kittens. For this gentle story, the Provensens once again used the setting of Maple Hill Farm. Both titles were reissued in 1994, attesting, as a critic for Junior Bookshelf remarked in a review of both reprints, "to the popularity the titles have achieved."
The Provensens' work was an authentic collaborative of effort, noted reviewers, with one's work virtually indistinguishable from the other's. Regarding the book itself as "basically a vehicle for the text," Martin recalled to Willard, that for their award-winning book authored by Willard, A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers, they immersed themselves in Blake's poetry and biographies. They also wandered through what was left of eighteenth-century London while they were there. "We know how many people love England and especially London, even if they haven't been there." Martin told Willard that working together was "a matter of having confidence in your mutual understanding of what the goal is and how you want the book to look."
After Martin's death, Alice was unsure if she would continue to write and illustrate books. She told Publishers Weekly interviewer Leonard S. Marcus, "We were a true collaboration. Martin and I really were one artist." Linda Zuckerman, the Provensens' long-time editor, encouraged Alice to continue on, and Alice eventually began working on a research project which eventually became The Buck Stops Here. This nonfiction picture book features page after page of portraits of the forty-one American presidents elected before 1990. Each portrait is accompanied by descriptions of events that occurred during their terms in office, as well as their own achievements or failings. In a review for Publishers Weekly, a contributor called The Buck Stops Here "a shining example of children's nonfiction," praising the way Alice encourages children to do their own research, "and she does it in glorious style."
In 1991, Alice wrote the book Punch in New York, borrowing the traditional Punch and Judy characters of early puppet shows and telling the story of how the mischievous Punch becomes lost in New York. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Alice's illustrations "distinctly detailed" and "rendered in the bright, buoyant colors of puppetry." Her next book, My Fellow Americans: A Family Album, echoed The Buck Stops Here in its depiction of famous Americans. Featuring more than 500 such notable Americans as Dr. Seuss, Alexander Graham Bell, Elvis Presley, and Malcolm X, Alice groups together portraits of her subjects by categories, accompanying each illustration with short phrases or quotations. Roger Sutton, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books noted that while children might not know all the people featured in the book, it was still "a good place to start: pick a face, any face." Similarly, Susan G. Scheps, reviewing the title in School Library Journal, felt it offers "an exciting frame of reference" which encourages young readers to seek out more information. Carolyn Phelan of Booklist explained that the collection "succeeds in providing a backward glance at American culture in all its quirky originality and energy." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found this "a highly personal gallery of American historical figures," and a critic for Kirkus Reviews lauded the book as "a love song to America."
In a departure from her early solo efforts, her 2001 book The Master Swordsman and the Magic Doorway retells the stories of Little Chu the sword student and Mu Chi the painter. In the story of The Master Swordsman, Little Chu's village is being troubled by bandits. To help his village, Chu travels to study swordplay with the great swordsman Master Li, who explains that he is no longer teaching. After many trials, most of them involving learning how to avoid being hit on the head, Master Li awards Little Chu his sword, saying that Chu will only need it to chop cabbage. When Little Chu returns to his village, his skill at cutting vegetables with the sword impresses everyone, even the bandits who become afraid and run away. The Magic Doorway tells the story of an emperor who, impressed by the work that painter Mu Chi has done in his palace, plots to kill the artist so that no one else can ever own one of Mu Chi's paintings. But using the magic of his paints, Mu Chi creates a blue door and uses it to escape the emperor. Parravano of Horn Book wrote that the tales were "beautifully and evocatively depicted," while Margaret A. Chang of School Library Journal noted, "Provensen tells a good story in crisp, dramatic sentences." A critic for Kirkus Reviews commented, "The elegant precision of both prose and painting will speak to young readers," and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised, "Provensen is a master storyteller and a consummate artist."
Provensen's 2003 title, A Day in the Life of Murphy, is a "clever canine caper," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, featuring an "irrepressibly rambunctious and chatty narrator." Murphy is a terrier with much on his mind; in fast-paced dialogue, the mutt describes his daily activities, including looking for kitchen scraps, ignoring the farm animals he must share his lodgings with, and taking a trip to the vet. The Publishers Weekly contributor further praised "Provensen's animated oil paintings" for this title. Joanna Rudge Long, writing in Horn Book, also drew attention to the artwork, noting the "welcoming, expertly composed vistas" of the farm and its several buildings. Booklist's Shelle Rosenfeld, too, commended the "colorful, textured artwork," as well as "the enthusiastic, engaging doggie stream of consciousness" that Murphy, the narrator, employs to describe his day. School Library Journal's Kate McClelland felt that the "assured but simple presentation . . . will earn this memorably funny dog a place on shelves and in hearts."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Children's Literature Review, Volume 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.
Illustrators of Children's Books, 1957-1966, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1968.
Marcus, Leonard S., Side by Side: Five FavoritePicture-Book Teams Go to Work, Walker (New York, NY), 2001.
Booklist, November 1, 1983, review of The GloriousFlight: Across the Channel with Louis Blériot, July 25, 1909, pp. 418-419; December 1, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of My Fellow Americans: A Family Album, p. 624; September 15, 2001, John Peters, review of The Master Swordsman and The Magic Doorway: Two Legends from Ancient China, p. 223; May 15, 2003, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of A Day in the Life of Murphy, pp. 1672-1673.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1984, Zena Sutherland, review of The Glorious Flight, p. 96; January, 1996, Roger Sutton, review of My Fellow Americans, p. 168
Horn Book, August, 1984, Alice and Martin Provensen, Caldecott Medal acceptance speech, pp. 444-449, and Nancy Willard, "Alice and Martin Provensen," pp. 449-452; May-June, 1985, Ethel L. Heins, review of Town and Country, pp. 328-329; November-December, 1986, David Macaulay, review of The Glorious Flight, pp. 714-715; July-August, 1987, review of The Voyage of the Ludgate Hill: Travels with Robert Louis Stevenson, pp. 480-481; November-December, 1987, Ethel L. Heins, review of Shaker Lane, pp. 729-730; March-April, 1991, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Buck Stops Here: The Presidents of the United States, p. 218; January-February, 2002, Martha V. Parravano, review of The Master Swordsman and The Magic Doorway, pp. 71-72; July-August, 2003, Joanna Rudge Long, review of A Day in the Life of Murphy, p. 447.
Horn Book Guide, spring, 1995, Martha V. Parravano, review of Town and Country and An Owl and Three Pussy Cats, p. 51.
Instructor, October, 1994, Jolene Vereecke, review of The Glorious Flight, p. 85.
Junior Bookshelf, June, 1984, review of The GloriousFlight, p. 120; December, 1994, review of Town and Country and An Owl and Three Pussy Cats, p. 207.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1995, review of MyFellow Americans, p. 1355; September 15, 2001, review of The Master Swordsman and The Magic Doorway, p. 1366; April 15, 2003, review of A Day in the Life of Murphy, p. 611.
Lion and the Unicorn, Volume 7-8, 1983-84, Nancy Willard, "The Birds and the Beasts Were There: An Interview with Martin Provensen."
New Advocate, fall, 1996, Peggy Albers, "Issues of Representation: Caldecott Gold Medal Winners 1984-1995," p. 267-285.
New Yorker, December 3, 1984, Faith McNulty, review of Leonardo da Vinci: The Artist, Inventor, Scientist in Three-Dimensional, Moveable Pictures, p. 188; November 6, 1990, Faith McNulty, review of The Buck Stops Here, p. 142.
New York Times Book Review, September 8, 1974, George A. Woods, review of Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, p. 8.
People Weekly, January 28, 1991, Susan Toepfer, review of The Buck Stops Here, p. 25.
Publishers Weekly, November 16, 1984, review of Leonardo da Vinci, p. 65; February 15, 1985, review of Town and Country, p. 100; March 20, 1987, review of The Voyage of the Ludgate Hill, p. 76; July 24, 1987, review of Shaker Lane, p. 185; August 10, 1990, review of The Buck Stops Here, p. 441; September 13, 1991, review of Punch in New York, p. 78; October 9, 1995, review of My Fellow Americans, p. 84; March 4, 1996, review of Punch in New York, p. 67; October 5, 1998, review of Count on Me, p. 92; July 6, 2001, Leonard S. Marcus, "A Collaborative Effort," p. 84; October 29, 2001, review of The Master Swordsman and The Magic Doorway, p. 63; December 3, 2001, review of Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, p. 63; April 28, 2003, review of A Day in the Life of Murphy, pp. 68-69; September 22, 2003, "A Special Day for an Artist," p. 39.
Reading Teacher, March, 1995, Hallie Yopp, review of Old Mother Hubbard, p. 541.
School Library Journal, February, 1984, p. 9; March, 1985, Genevieve Stolldorf, review of The Glorious Flight, p. 136; April, 1985, review of Town and Country, p. 82; May, 1987, Constance A. Mellon, review of The Voyage of the Ludgate Hill, p. 95; November, 1987, Kenneth Marantz, review of Shaker Lane, p. 95; December, 1987, review of The Voyage of the Ludgate Hill, p. 39; November, 1990, Ellen Dibner, review of The Buck Stops Here, p. 131; February, 1999, Susan G. Scheps, review of My Fellow Americans, p. 39; November, 2001, Margaret A. Chang, review of The Master Swordsman and The Magic Doorway, p. 133; July, 2003, Kate McClelland, review of A Day in the Life of Murphy, p. 104.
Time, December 14, 1987, Stephan Kanfer, review of Shaker Lane, p. 79.
"Provensen, Alice 1918-." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 26, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/provensen-alice-1918
"Provensen, Alice 1918-." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. . Retrieved March 26, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/provensen-alice-1918
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