Virginia Lee Burton papers
Held at: Free Library of Philadelphia: Children's Literature Research Collection [Contact Us]1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19103
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Free Library of Philadelphia: Children's Literature Research Collection. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Virginia Lee Burton was born in Newton Center, Massachusetts, on August 30, 1909 to Lena Dalkeith Yates, a poet and artist, and Alfred Burton, an engineer. The family moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, in 1920, and in 1925 Burton's parents divorced. After high school, Burton studied art and dance in San Francisco, but her ballet career ended in 1928 when she moved back to Massachusetts to take care of her father. In 1930, she enrolled in a drawing class taught by George Demetrios at Boston Museum School. They were married less than a year later, on March 28, 1931. Their first son, Aristides Burton Demetrios, was born on February 17, 1932. The family settled in Folly Cove, the northernmost part of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and their second son, Michael Burton Demetrios, was born on August 30, 1936.
Burton began writing children's books to entertain her sons. Her first book, Jonnifer Lint, was about a piece of dust. It was rejected by thirteen publishers and the reason became clear when she tried to read the story to her 3-year-old son Aris, who fell asleep. Her first illustration work was a commission by the publisher Houghton Mifflin Company to provide the artwork for Sad-Faced Boy (1937) by Arna Bontemps. Shortly afterward, Choo Choo: The Story of a Little Engine Who Ran Away (1937) became the first published book that Burton both wrote and illustrated. Burton received the Caldecott Medal and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award for Little House (1942). Other well-known works by Burton include Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (1939), Calico, the Wonder Horse (1941), Katy and the Big Snow (1943), and Maybelle, the Cable Car (1952).
It would be ten years before Burton published her final book, Life Story (1962). Returning to some of the themes and design of Little House, Burton tells the tale of life at its inception through an illustrated stage play. The acts and scenes are narrated by a cast of characters including an astronomer, a geologist, a paleontologist, a historian, a grandmother, and Burton herself. Burton researched the text at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her attention to detail is evident in all of her books, but none more so than Life Story. The final pages depict the last twenty-five years of her life in Folly Cove, where she lived until passing away on October 15, 1968 at the age of fifty-nine.
Children's Literature Review, vol. 11, 32.
Something About the Author, vol. 100, 42.
"Virginia Lee Burton," Wikipedia, accessed October 12, 2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Lee_Burton.
Elleman, Barbara. Virginia Lee Burton : A Life in Art. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
This collection contains sketchbooks, preliminary sketches, final illustrations, dummies, galleys, typescripts, and color separations for Life Story written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton. The collection consists primarily of sketches, drawings, and illustrations.
Burton pinned her initial watercolor sketches to her studio walls, and the sketches still have pinholes, bearing witness to her working methods. The six sketchbooks consist of handwritten drafts and drawings, many of which were made at the American Museum of Natural History. Further evidence of Burton's artistic technique can be found in the preliminary artwork, which consists of multiple versions of each page, some on small scraps of papers and others on oversized board. The earlier scenes were much more extensively reworked than the later scenes, of which there are far fewer iterations.
Each dummy is a bound volume containing sketches and drawings of the final artwork. Color separations are for the textual pages only and suffer from vinegar syndrome. (Please consult Curator regarding use.) The final artwork consists of the finished illustrations that appeared in the published addition. Altogether, the collection outlines the evolution of the project at each stage, and provides a valuable record of Burton's creative process. This collection does not contain any correspondence regarding the book.
This collection is arranged in eight series: I. Sketchbooks and notes; II. Ideas not pursued; III. Preliminary artwork; IV. Dummies; V. Typescript and galley proof; VI. Final artwork; VII. Color separations; VIII. First published edition.
Within each subseries, materials are arranged in probable order of creation.
This collection is referenced in Barbara Elleman's Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002).
Gift of Virginia Lee Burton, 1968.
- Free Library of Philadelphia: Children's Literature Research Collection
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Lindsay Friedman
- Finding Aid Date
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open to researchers by appointment. Please contact the Curator for information on access.
- Use Restrictions
The right of access to material does not imply the right of publication. Permission for reprinting, reproduction, or extensive quotation from the rare books, manuscripts, prints, or drawings must be obtained through written application, stating the use to be made of the material. The reader bears the responsibility for any possible infringement of copyright laws in the publication of such material. A reproduction fee will be charged if the material is to be reproduced in a commercial publication.
Some of the materials in this collection may be too fragile for use without the Curator’s supervision.
Includes three handwritten notes identifying the sketchbooks which were drawn from observations at the Museum of Natural History. These notes may have been written by an assistant to Ms. Burton.
This series was labeled “Ideas not pursued" by Ms. Burton or her assistant.
Oversized materials in Box 12.
Printed text separated from original illustrations. This is cut-up galley text that was originally taped to final art and has become separated. Text for page 69 is missing.