Alice Provensen, who was born on August 14th, 1917, was for many years one-half of a picture-book team. Side by side with her husband, Martin Provensen, they created memorable, award-winning picture books for forty-three years, books in which their individual contributions were never evident, only their teamwork.
The Provensens had remarkably similar experiences before they met. Both of them were born in Chicago, Illinois, and their families moved to California when they were twelve years of age. In California, they graduated from high school and college. Martin worked for the Disney Studio, in the Story Department, from 1937 to 1941. Alice worked with the artists who drew for the Walter Lantz Studio, the creators of Woody Woodpecker. Both studios were in Hollywood. They didn't meet until 1943, when Martin, who was now in the Navy, was assigned to the Walter Lantz Studio to help create instructional films for the military. Alice and Martin married in 1944 and moved to Washington, D.C., where both were employed in war-related jobs. When peace was declared, the couple moved to New York City, where friend and artist Gustaf Tenggren helped them get their first picture book illustration assignment. That first book was The Fireside Book of Folk Songs. They bought a farm in upstate New York, and their book A Year at Maple Hill Farm has become a classic. They illustrated several Golden Books, among them The Color Kittens and Animal Farm. In 1982, one of their illustrated books, A Visit to William Blake's Inn, by Nancy Willard, received the Newbery Medal. In 1984, the couple received the Caldecott Medal for The Glorious Flight, about French aviation pioneer Louis Bleriot.
Martin Provensen died of a heart attack in 1987, at age 70. With one half of her picture book team gone, Mrs. Provensen didn't know if she would create any more children's books. "You see," she says, "we were a true collaboration. Martin and I really were one artist." In 1990, with the encouragement of her editor, Linda Zuckerman at Viking Press, and her innate curiosity and love of research, Alice Provensen published The Buck Stops Here: the Presidents of the United States. Since then, she has researched, written, and illustrated several more noteworthy books. Happy birthday, Alice Provensen, and may you have many more!