Alice was born August 14, 1918 and Martin was born July 10, 1916. The pair had some uncanny similarities growing up. Both were born in Chicago, moved to California when they were twelve, received scholarships to the Art Institute of Chicago and attended the University of California. After their studies their paths started differ. Alice worked at the animation studio Walter Lantz Productions, home of Woody Woodpecker. While Martin worked at Walt Disney Studio, on their feature-length films Dumbo, Fantasia, and Pinocchio. The two finally crossed paths in 1943, and got married the following year.
The Provensen’s moved to New York City. There, with help from a friend they landed their first job together, illustrating The Fireside Book of Folk Songs (1947). They later illustrated Little Golden Book’s The Fuzzy Duckling (1949), The Color Kittens (1949) and The Little Fat Policeman (1950). In 1952, Kellogg’s approached the couple to design some mascots for their cereal, Frosted Flakes. In addition to Tony the Tiger, they designed an entire ‘Kellogg’s Zoo’ with animal mascots including Katy the Kangaroo, Zeke the Zebra, Elmo the Elephant and Newt the Gnu. All of which have dissipated through time. However, Frosted Flakes’ lead mascot, Tony the Tiger was heavily featured in Kellogg’s advertising campaigns, making him an icon in the process.
The lucrative Kellogg’s commissions gave the Provensens a lot of exposure, and was probably a nice change from the lower-paying fees of the children’s book at the time. Even so, the couple continued to illustrate children’s books well into the 1980s, up until Martin’s death in 1987.
Alice said this of their partnership, ‘we were a true collaboration. Martin and I really were one artist.’
They won a Caldecott Medal for The Glorious Flight (1983), which they also wrote. It was called the ‘most distinguished American picture book for children’ by the American Library Association. Eight of their books have been named on the The New York Times annual Ten Best Illustrated Books list.
Alice Provensen continued to work on publishing projects well into her 90s. She wrote and illustrated seven books, including Punch in New York, published in 1991, which is considered her best solo work. Alice died in April 2018, four months shy of her 100th birthday.