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Curio

In Mid Twentieth Century, Folly Cove Artisans Reunited Designers and Craftsmen

By Steve Moyer | HUMANITIES, May/June 2015 | Volume 36, Number 3

Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios was a children’s book author who lived in Gloucester, Massachusetts, with her husband, the sculptor George Demetrios. A visual artist herself, “Jinnee,” as she was known, taught many nearby housewives how to design and fashion linoleum printing blocks to create their own patterned cloth. This was far from her only legacy. As the animating spirit behind Folly Cove Designers, a local collective of twenty-five artists whose designs made regional and national news as they were displayed in museums and department stores, Virginia Demetrios is remembered as a notable figure in the midcentury wave of the American arts and crafts movement.

Founded in 1941, the group’s solid design work caught the eye of national retailers like Lord & Taylor and Rich’s of Atlanta. Skinner Silks commissioned several designs in 1947. The Designers’ work appeared in sixteen museum exhibitions from the early forties to the mid fifties.

Many of the artists in the group were women and housewives, and the work at Folly Cove was something they could do as time permitted and still take care of their families. The group shared a barn on Cape Ann’s north shore that contained an Acorn press and a space where the printing blocks could be transferred to fabric. After hours of work scratching a design into a surface of black ink on white board, a jury would review the result and either approve it or suggest alterations. With the many steps involved in drawing, inking, cutting away the linoleum, and beveling the edges, a single block could take up to a hundred hours to complete. Many designs required several blocks, which added one color per block.

All this work was integral to the aesthetic. “Back at the beginning of the Machine Age,” Jinnee was quoted as saying in a magazine article, “the designer and the craftsman got separated. The designer went white collar. The craftsman became a superior sort of mechanic. That’s why so many of our industrial art forms look alike—all stamped from the same machine. That’s why there’s so little individualism within them.”

In 1969, following the death of Jinnee Demetrios the year before, the twenty-five designers of Folly Cove agreed to close the company. They donated their materials to the Cape Ann Museum. The museum has received a preservation-assessment grant from NEH for the Folly Cove Designers Collection of textiles and linoleum printing blocks.