Provensen was born on July 10, 1916, in Chicago, Illinois. When he reached twelve years old, he moved with his family to California. He later won a scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago before transferring to the University of California in Berkeley. Taking a position as a cartoonist and drawing storyboards for Walt Disney Studio, Provensen helped create the animated films Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Fantasia. He then enlisted in the navy and was assigned to the Walter Lantz Studio to make military training films.
In 1943 he met his future wife, Alice, who also worked at Walter Lantz Studio. Provensen had to transfer to Washington, D.C., and Alice followed. The couple married in 1944 and continued working for the war effort. At the end of World War II, they decided to move to New York City, and with the help of a friend, got asked to illustrate their first children's book called the Fireside Book of Folk Songs. For this book alone, they drew over 500 illustrations.
Over time, the Provensens became famous for their artistic abilities. As a team, they illustrated as one artist. The trained eye couldn't tell where one person had started and the other partner continued the drawing. Provensen also designed a character for Kellogg's, and thus provided the company with what would become a very famous mascot, Tony the Tiger.
Traveling to Europe for inspiration and material, the Provensens then returned to the U.S. and bought a farm in New York. The animals also provided the team with memories and models for books, including A Year at Maple Hill Farm. They won numerous awards for their creativity, soft hues, realistic designs, and distinct style. After illustrating many Little Golden Books, they won the Caldecott Honor Medal for A Visit to William Blake's Inn, which also earned its author, Nancy Willard, a Newbery Medal. For the book A Glorious Flight Across the Channel, which the Provensens wrote and illustrated, they won the Caldecott Medal.
Only five short years later, Provensen passed away from a heart attack on March 27, 1987. With his wife, Provensen left behind a legacy that future generations of illustrators and authors would follow.
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