Barker, Cicely Mary (1895–1973)

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Barker, Cicely Mary (1895–1973)

British artist, author and illustrator of children's books who was best known for her "Flower Fairies" series. Born in Waddon, Croydon, Surrey, England, on June 28, 1895; died in Worthing, Sussex, England, on February 16, 1973; daughter of Walter (a seed merchant and woodcarver) and Mary Eleanor Oswald Barker; sister Dorothy (b. 1893); attended Croyden School of Art.

Selected writings—except as noted, all for children, all self-illustrated, all originally published by Blackie & Son:

Flower Fairies of the Spring (verse, 1923); Flower Fairies of the Summer (verse, 1925); Flower Fairies of the Autumn, with the Nuts and Berries They Bring (verse, 1926); The Book of Flower Fairies (verse, 1927); (editor) Old Rhymes for All Times (1928); A Flower Fairy Alphabet (1934); (editor) A Little Book of Old Rhymes (1936); The Lord of the Rushie River (fiction, 1938); Fairies of the Trees (verse, 1940); When Spring Came in at the Window (one-act play; music by Olive Linnell, 1942); Flower Fairies of the Garden (verse, 1944); Groundsel and Necklaces (fiction, 1946); Flower Fairies of the Wayside (verse, 1948); Lively Stories (5 vols., 1954–55); Flower Fairy Picture Book (verse, 1955); Lively Numbers (3 vols., 1960–62); Lovely Words (2 vols., 1961–62); The Sand, the Sea, and the Sun (1970).


(With Beatrice A. Waldram) The "Guardian Angel" Series of Birthday Cards (S.P.C.K., 1923); Beautiful Bible Pictures (Blackie & Sons, 1932); The Little Picture Hymn Book (Blackie & Son, 1933); Dorothy O. Barker, He Leadeth Me: A Book of Bible Stories (Blackie & Son, 1936); The Flower Fairies Address Book. Also illustrator of Laugh and Learn by Jennett Humphreys and The Children's Book of Hymns.

Cicely Mary Barker, the frail daughter of a talented woodcarver, began painting in childhood and found a talent she would continue developing for the rest of her life. Best known for her "Flower Fairies" series of self-illustrated children's books, her paintings were exclusively of children, who were more often than not surrounded by flowers. Influenced heavily by Kate Greenaway , Barker once said of her work, "I

have always tried to paint instinctively in a way that comes naturally to me, without any real thought or attention to artistic theories."

Suffering with childhood epilepsy, Barker spent long periods in bed and was tutored at home. Her only formal education came from a correspondence course in drawing and evening classes at the Croyden School of Art. At age 15, she sold a set of painted postcards to the printer-publisher Raphael Tuck, beginning her commercial career, and a year later she won second prize in a poster contest run by the Croydon Art Society. Soon after, she was elected to life membership in the Society, becoming their youngest member. Barker served as vice-president from 1961 to 1972 and remained their longest serving member until her death.

In 1912, her beloved father died unexpectedly at age 43. To sustain the family, her sister Dorothy Barker opened a school in their home. In 1924, the family moved to 23 The Waldrons in Croydon; their home continued to house Dorothy's kindergarten, while Cicely set up a studio in the garden shed. Cicely adored being surrounded by children and often borrowed a student from the school to use as a model. Despite early rejections for her first book Flower Fairies, she had continued to submit it to publishers; it was finally printed when she was 29 by Blackie & Son, who would continue to publish the numerous works to follow. During her career, Barker also produced portraits and church murals. One of her paintings, "The Darling of the World is Come," was purchased by Queen Mary. She also designed a church window in memory of her sister, for St. Edmund's Church in Pitlake, where her father had played the organ and carved the pulpit.

Barker maintained that her greatest influence was the Pre-Raphaelites and their fascination with the simplicity, romance and pageantry of the Middle Ages. She especially liked "the early painting of [John Everett] Millais and, though he is later, the wonderful things of [Edward] Burne-Jones." Completely devoted to her work, she even carried a pencil and sketchbook

on holidays in order to rapidly sketch interesting children. Her private life revolved around family, religion, and a select group of friends, including artist Margaret Tarrant . Barker made generous contributions to many—the deprived young, the Girl Guides, the Girls Diocesan Association—and each Christmas she painted a picture for the Girls Friendly Society.

In 1954, when Dorothy, who had taken over household chores to free Cicely for her art, died of a heart attack, Barker stopped painting and took over the care of her elderly mother. Six years later, when her mother died at age 91, Barker resumed her work, completing a stained-glass window for the church of St. Edmund's Pitlake in honor of her sister. During her later years, the artist was forced to move to smaller quarters in Storrington, but she retained a studio until failing health and eyesight made her rely on others for care. Cicely Mary Barker died at Worthy Hospital in Croydon, on February 16, 1973, the 50th anniversary of the first publication of her internationally famous "Flower Fairies" series.


"Centenary of Cicely Mary Barker, the Artist who Created the Flower Fairies," in This England. Vol. 24, no. 4. Winter 1995, pp. 35–37.

Commire, Anne. Something about the Author. Volume 49. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.

Dalby, Richard. The Golden Age of Children's Books. NY: Gallery Books, 1991.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts