A Note From the Processor: Assembling the Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios Papers at the Cape Ann Museum
By Heidi Horner
My interest in the Folly Cove Designers began in 2015, when I wandered into the Sarah Elizabeth Shop in Rockport on a rainy winter Sunday. It was cozy there, and Julia Garrison welcomed me into the tiny shop, as much a workshop as a retail space. A huge acorn press was centered in the room, and racks of linoleum block prints mounted on wood frames hung high on the walls. Julia’s own work was for sale next to prints of blocks by Isabel Natti and others. She told me stories about the Designers, their approach, their teacher Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios, and how Julia came to learn to print on the acorn press. She sent me to the Cape Ann Museum’s Folly Cove gallery to see examples, and I loved what I saw.
As a quilter myself, I was so drawn to this local artistic tradition of intricate designs printed on textiles. When I started library school, I delved deeper into the Folly Cove and Virginia Lee Burton archival collections for a literature review project, and jumped at the chance to intern at CAM when I started to study archives in 2019. The timing lined up perfectly for me to process significant new material that had just come in from Aris Demetrios and his family, which I merged with the collection that had been on loan at CAM since 1991, to create the Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios Papers.
Some notable acquisitions from the 2019 gift were publication materials for Virginia Lee Burton’s books including The Song of Robin Hood, correspondence between members of the Demetrios family, and several different types of material that demonstrate the theory and pedagogy of design that Jinnee—as she was known to the Folly Cove Designers—used in her teaching. Two wooden index card file boxes have small cards with examples of different types of designs. Bound journals have mock-ups of Design and How!: a primer of design, very elementary, the design curriculum that she worked on for twenty-five years but never published before her death at age 59. Large poster-size sheets show examples, exercises and homework assigned to the Folly Cove Designers in the class they had to take to be part of the group. A scrapbook contains many clippings of Virginia Lee Burton’s early sketching and cartooning work for the Boston Evening Transcript and other publications.
In archival practice, great pains are taken to maintain records in their original order, keeping the organization the creator left or intended. Since this collection came to the museum decades after its creation, its original order was not always discernible— for instance, some drawings and sketches were piled in one flat box together, mostly undated. In many cases I was able to reunite records from a similar context that had been separated, or provide description in the finding aid to give context. A small group of ephemera with tack holes and light damage went into a folder called “Items from bulletin board, circa 1962” that provides a sense of what Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios might have had posted at her desk around the time she published Life Story.
One of the main things I did in processing this collection was to inventory its contents and place them in a meaningful series structure— for instance, series one is “Books and Associated Illustrations, 1937-1962,” and proceeds chronologically through each of Virginia Lee Burton’s published works, including original artwork from sketches to final drafts, publication materials like mock-ups and page proofs, correspondence and publicity for each work. Manuscript material related to Design and How! was organized based on one of several tables of contents I found among the drafts.
It has been my pleasure to provide reference assistance to researchers using this collection, and incorporate their feedback into its organization. Archives are for use! I love seeing the ongoing relevance of Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios and the Folly Cove Designers’ stories, and I’m grateful to the Demetrios family and the Cape Ann Museum for making them freely accessible to all who would like to see and study them. The Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios Papers contain evidence of a full life, well lived, and I find something new and wonderful each time I open them up.
If you would like to see and hear more, join me on November 12, 2022 at 11:00am in the CAM Library & Archives, for a library discussion entitled “Design and How!: Virginia Lee Burton’s Theory of Design.”