It is with great sadness that the Cape Ann Museum notes the passing of Mary Lee Kingman Natti, known to all as Lee.

June 14, 2020

Mary Shore - Sullen Sea

Members of the Folly Cove Designers Group (left to right) Peggy Norton, Lee Kingman Natti, Mary Wallenius and Barbara Bisbee. Photo credit: Barbara Erkkila for her article in the Gloucester Daily Times, July 26, 1957. From the Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives.

Lee Kingman Natti

From Cape Ann Museum Curator, Martha Oaks:

It is with great sadness that the Cape Ann Museum notes the passing of Mary Lee Kingman Natti, known to all as Lee. A widely published author and a leading member of the Folly Cove Designers, Lee was a multi-talented woman and a dedicated supporter of the Museum for many years.

From the early 1970s onward, when the first parts of the Museum’s Folly Cove Designer collection were received, Lee was a constant and steady voice advocating that the Museum step it up in terms of displaying the collection. After special, large-scale exhibitions in 1982 and 1996, most of the collection was quietly put into storage leaving just a small segment of it on display in the back of the Museum’s auditorium. Rightfully so, Lee always felt that the collection deserved more space and more prominence. After many discussions and much planning, in 2014 as part of the Museum’s most recent round of renovations, a new and spacious gallery dedicated to the Folly Cove Designers was opened to the public. Since that time, the gallery has been a visitor favorite, a space where individuals and families can always be found, admiring and being inspired by the remarkable work of Lee Natti and her fellow Designers. Without Lee’s wisdom and foresight, the gallery would not have become a reality.

In 2018, the Museum was pleased to fill its Folly Cove Designer Gallery with Lee’s work, examples of her many books, her needlepoint, printed Christmas cards she made for family and friends and, of course, her work as a Folly Cove Designer. That same year we were honored to publicly recognize Lee with a tea party organized in honor of her birthday. Well-wishers filled the Museum, waiting patiently in a long line that wound around our third-floor galleries. Cara White worked closely with Lee for several years and remembers that on that day “no one was surprised to see so many friends coming out to show their love for Lee.”

Extraordinarily generous with her time, Lee was always available to answer questions for the Museum staff and to speak with people eager to meet her and learn more about the Folly Cove Designers. Lee was always available to help us catalog and care for the collection and a few years ago, she and her daughter Suzi opened their Lanesville home to members of the Museum’s Folly Cove Affinity Group. Those in attendance warmly remember that Lee showed the group through her home, sharing with them her personal collection of blocks cut for her Folly Cove Designer prints as well as her own collection of textiles. In thinking back on that day and on all that Lee Natti accomplished during her life, Cara noted this: Lee was a woman of intellect, and her mid-20th century work life would be the admiration of any 21st century career woman.

Lee Natti and daughter Suzi, 4/28/2018.

Lee's Work

Lee’s work as a Folly Cove Designer grew out of a lifelong passion for reading and writing, which she developed as a child. As a Smith College graduate Lee commenced work at the Houghton Mifflin Company as assistant to the editor of children’s books and soon rising to the position of editor. It was in this capacity as editor that Lee met children's book author and artist Virginia Lee Burton from which a lifelong professional and personal friendship was formed. In 1942, Natti’s children’s book Pierre Pidgeon was published by Houghton Mifflin, the first of 29 works she would see in print. 

To learn more about the extraordinary life of Lee Kingman Natti, both in children’s literature and as an artist, including select works such as the design below, please visit her page on our website

Lee Kingman Natti (1919-2020) Gulls, undated. Ink on cotton.

The Cape Ann Museum is fortunate to hold the Folly Cove Designers Archival Collection. One of the most important portions of this collection contains audio recordings and transcripts of over 30 interviews and oral histories conducted with members of the Folly Cove Designers in the 1990s.

Lee sat down with Professor Theodora “Penny” Martin four times throughout the nineties to discuss her life and work. All four of these complete transcripts are now on our website:

-October 17, 1991

-June 2, 1992

-October 27, 1995

-June 24, 1996

And to hear the audio from a 1978 oral history conducted by Linda Brayton with Natti, visit the Sawyer Free Library’s NOBLE Digital Heritage page.

Lee Kingman Natti, sitting, front right. From the Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives.