When Virginia Lee Burton settled in Gloucester's Folly Cove, she encountered a home that would come to inspire a children's story that remains relevant more than 75 years later.

Burton's award-winning book, "The Little House," was published in 1942, a dozen years after she returned to her native Massachusetts from California.

In 1930, she met her future husband — sculptor and artist George Demetrios — while taking his drawing class at the Boston Museum School. The couple married within the year and moved to the village of Folly Cove, where they settled in a little house and raised their family in the artistic community.

Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester is celebrating Burton's landmark residence as well as her international legacy in a new special exhibition, "The Little House: Her Story."

A daylong event in connection with the exhibition takes place this Saturday, Nov. 3, at the museum. It will feature children's activities, readings of "The Little House," and a screening of the documentary film, "Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place," with film producer Christine Lundberg.


In "The Little House," Burton tells the tale of a small country dwelling, which becomes threatened by the encroachment of urbanization with its towering buildings, noisy traffic and pollution. When the house becomes vacant, the family’s descendants decide to move it back to the countryside.

The exhibition features Burton’s drawings, book illustrations and prints through her work as founder of the Folly Cove Designers, whose members would also go on to achieve international acclaim. A wall panel also explains how Burton and her husband moved their own house in the Folly Cove neighborhood away from the busy roadway in the early 1930s.

"The Little House: Her Story" has been made possible through a cross-cultural global collaboration with Michiyo Okabe, curator of Gallery A4 at the Takenaka Corporation in Tokyo, Japan. Takenaka Corporation is a worldwide architecture, engineering and construction firm.

Okabe, who created the scope of the exhibition, made arrangements to borrow archival materials from Cape Ann Museum as well as Sawyer Free Library, the Demetrios-Burton family, the Tokyo Children’s Library and The Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota.

A centerpiece of the exhibition is a miniature replica of  Burton's “Little House" fabricated in Japan that measures 6 1/2 feet tall, 6 feet wide and 4 feet deep.

Following exhibitions at four venues in Japan, the "Little House" model was disassembled and packed into a shipping container for its 45-day journey to Cape Ann. It was first loaded on a 302-foot ship operating under the flag of the Marshall Islands, and departed Tokyo for Shanghai, where the container was transferred to a larger ship operating under the Panamanian flag.

The ship traveled across the Pacific Ocean en route to the Panama Canal, which it traversed on Aug. 31, after which it headed north to Boston, arriving on Sept. 9. The model then was delivered to Gloucester, where it was reassembled in the Cape Ann Museum gallery. 

Cape Ann Museum curator Martha Oaks said discussions with Okabe began around 2012 with all parties eager to celebrate the life's work of Burton (1909-1968), whose books include "heroes and happy endings, lively illustrations, and a dash of nostalgia," according to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's website.

"The Little House," published by Houghton Mifflin Company, was Burton's fourth book and it won the 1942 Caldecott Medal. Burton also wrote and illustrated "Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel," "Katy and the Big Snow," and "Maybelle the Cable Car," among others.


"Cape Ann Museum is extraordinarily pleased to have been able to work with our colleagues and now our friends in Tokyo on this project," Oaks said. "'The Little House' was translated into Japanese in 1954 and, since that time, has been a favorite amongst readers of all ages in that country. We are now very pleased to have the model here in Gloucester for everyone to enjoy."

Saturday's opening celebration will include watercolor painting in the Activity Center and origami daisy making in the gallery for all ages throughout the day. Museum staff members will read "The Little House" at 10:30 a.m., noon and 1:30 p.m.  The one-hour documentary, "Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place," will be screened at 1 p.m. Refreshments will be served in the gallery from 3 to 5 p.m. The celebration is free with museum admission; museum members are welcome for free.

Lundberg, who directed "Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place," applauded the artist's talents and her ability to capture timeless stories that remain relevant in the 21st century.

"Standing before the replica of 'The Little House' at the Cape Ann Museum inspires feelings of persistence, survival and hope," Lundberg said. "The exhibit highlights Virginia Lee Burton’s brilliance as an artist and as a writer and shows her passionate belief that we are all stewards of our environment.

"This is not just a story from yesterday. It is, perhaps more importantly, a story for today and for tomorrow." 

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-675-2706, or at gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com


What: Opening celebration for "The Little House: Her Story," a tribute to Virginia Lee Burton 

When: Saturday, Nov. 3, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; special exhibition runs through March 31

Where: Cape Ann Museum, 27 Pleasant St., Gloucester.

How much: Opening celebration free with museum admission; museum members welcome for free.

More information: capeannmuseum.org