Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Two People, One Artist

The life of an artist is often filled with solitude. Those who share studio space enjoy an enviable companionship. But what must it be like when your studio-mate is also your life-mate? Alice and Martin Provensen may well be the most famous of such artist couples. "We were a true collaboration", says Alice Provensen, "Martin and I really were one artist."

By the time the Provensens produced these pieces for Field Enterprises' Childcraft series they had already been "one artist" for nearly two decades. Alice and Martin had met in 1943. Both had worked at rival animation studios - Martin, in the Disney story department (before the war) and Alice, at Walter (Woody Woodpecker) Lantz. One year later they were married and in 1945, they began their first children's book assignments, thanks to the assistance of their illustrator friend, Gustaf Tenggren.

Over the next 40 years the Provensens would produce over 40 books including a Caldecott Medal winner, The Glorious Flight. You can read about their careers and their life together in much greater detail here. The story of their lives is truly a powerful and moving love story.

Alice and Martin Provensen are among the most inspiring and influential illustrators of the 20th century, especially among animators and illustrators of childrens books and editorial work. Several Today's Inspiration list members have paid loving tribute to these great artists by scanning and uploading images so others may enjoy, learn from and be inspired by the Provensens' work. Steve Mack has a Provensen Flickr set here, Eric Sturdevant has many examples in his Old Children's Books set, and Ward Jenkins points us to a cool interactive site which makes use of the Provensens' Illiad and Odyssey art.

Today's images can be found at full size in my Alice and Martin Provensen Flickr set.


  1. I have loved the Provensens'work for years, Leif, particularly their books on Mythology and the Iliad. What a beautiful, strong style they had!

    It also sounds like they had an idyllic life together, living on a farm making pictures (although I can't say I learned a whole lot more about which one of them did what from the interview with Alice). Good for you for featuring them; they don't always spring to mind, but every time I see their work, I give them very high marks.

    It was not clear to me from your posting-- do you know if Alice is still alive?

  2. I must confess to being only passingly familiar with the Provensens work - and have just read about their lives myself so I don't know if Alice is still alive. But perhaps some other TI reader can answer that question for us, David.

  3. Hey- I had the Provensen "Iliad and Odyssey," when I was a kid. Wore it out, reading it over and over; helped start a lifelong interest in Greek mythology.

    Did not know their names, though.

    Interestingly enough I was just trying to find a copy for the son of some friends... now that I have the name, maybe I'll get lucky.

    Seeing those pictures again is like a reunion with an old friend. Thanks, Leif!

  4. My pleasure, Bob - and thanks for your note! ;-)

  5. Anonymous10:37 PM

    As a child, I never paid attention to the artists' names, but I love their work.

    Their work was beautiful.

    thank you for this.