Alice and Martin Provensen

2010 Lifetime Achievement Award (Contemporary): Alice and Martin Provensen

Alice and Martin Provensen worked side by side for forty-three years, creating memorable award-winning picture books as a team. Their best-known work appears in A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard, named a Caldecott Honor Book in 1982, and The Glorious Flight, which they wrote as well as illustrated, winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1984.

The Provensens’ early lives were remarkably similar. Both were born in Chicago and moved with their families to California when they were twelve. After college, Alice worked with Walter Lantz Studio, creator of Woody Woodpecker, and Martin worked for Walt Disney Studio, where he collaborated on Dumbo, Fantasia, and Pinocchio.

They met in 1943, when Martin, who was then in the Navy, was assigned to Walter Lantz Studio to help create instructional films for the military. They married the following year and lived in Washington, D.C., and New York City before moving to Dutchess County, New York.

The Provensen’s first picture book was The Fireside Book of Folk Songs, published by Simon & Schuster in 1947. Following that, they illustrated several beloved Little Golden Books, such as The Color Kittens and The Fuzzy Duckling. They also created their own texts to illustrate, including The Year at Maple Hill Farm and The Animals at Maple Hill Farm (both Simon & Schuster), which captured life on their farm in Dutchess County.

In all, Alice and Martin wrote and illustrated more than fifty books. Their work was on the New York Times’ annual list of “Ten Best Illustrated Books” nine times, and in addition to their Caldecott awards, they were honored with the Art Books for Children citation of the Brooklyn Museum and a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators. Since Martin’s death in 1987, Alice has written and illustrated her own work, including My Fellow Americans: A Family Album (Harcourt) and The Buck Stops Here: The Presidents of the United States, which Viking just re-released in updated form.