August 27, 2010

The Reading Corner...Cicely Mary Barker

Cicely Mary Barker....Author and Illustrator 
Born: June 28, 1895
West Croydon, Surrey
Death: February 16, 1973..78 years old

Cicely Mary Barker was an English illustrator best known for a series of fantasy illustrations depicting fairies and flowers. Barker's art education began in girlhood with correspondence courses and instruction at the Croydon School of Art. Her earliest professional work included greeting card and juvenile magazine illustrations, and her first book, Flower Fairies of the Spring, was published in 1923. Similar books were published in the following decades.

Barker was born the second daughter and last child of Walter Barker, a partner in a seed supply company and an amateur artist, and his wife Mary Eleanor (Oswald) Barker on 28 June 1895 at home at 66 Waddon Road in Croydon, Surrey, England. Barker was an epileptic as a child, and cared for at home by her parents. Later, her sister and elder by two years, Dorothy Oswald Barker, continued the care.

Following her father’s death in June 1912, the seventeen year old Barker submitted art and poetry to My Magazine, Child’s Own, Leading Strings, and Raphael Tuck annuals in an effort to support both her mother and sister. Her sister Dorothy taught kindergarten in two private schools before opening a kindergarten at home. She brought in some money for the family's support while supervising the household. The first publication of Flower Fairies of the Summer in 1925 was when Barker first  received royalties for her work.

 In 1924, the family moved into a three-level, semi-detached Victorian house at 23 The Waldrons. Barker had a studio built in the garden and her sister conducted a kindergarten in a room at the back of the house. The family lived frugally and attended both St. Edmund's and St. Andrew's in Croydon – "low" churches for the less privileged. Barker was a devout Anglican, and donated her artworks to Christian fundraisers and missionary organizations. She produced a few Christian-themed books such as The Children’s Book of Hymns and, in collaboration with her sister Dorothy, He Leadeth Me. She designed a stained glass window for St. Edmund's Church, Pitlake, (in memory of her sister) and her painting of the Christ Child, The Darling of the World Has Come, was purchased by Queen Mary.

In 1940, the Barker's live-in maid retired, and Dorothy Barker closed her school at the back of the house in The Waldrons. She continued to supervise the household, and to give both her mother and sister the care they needed. Dorothy and her sister collaborated upon only two books: Our Darling's First Book and the Christian-themed, He Leadeth Me. In 1954, Dorothy Barker died of a heart attack. Barker was unable to pursue her art to any significant extent following her sister's death as all the care of her aged mother devolved upon her. She managed however to begin planning a stained glass window design in her sister's memory for St. Edmund's, Pitlake.

Barker's mother died in 1960, and, in 1961, Barker moved from 23 The Waldrons to 6 Duppas Avenue in Croydon. She restored a maisonette in Storrington, Sussex, England bequeathed her by friend Edith Major and named it St. Andrew's. After taking up residence, her health began to deteriorate. She was in and out of nursing and convalescent homes, and tended by relatives and friends.

Barker died at Worthing Hospital on 16 February 1973, aged 77 years. Two funeral services were held – one in Storrington Church and one in Barker's maisonette. Her ashes were scattered in Storrington churchyard.

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