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Barker, Cicely Mary

Category: Poet

Cicely Mary Barker (June 28, 1895- February 16, 1973) was an  artist and poet who wrote and illustrated the Flower and Tree Fairies series of books.  She was born in Croydon, England.

She suffered from epilepsy as a child and remained physically delicate for most of her life. She was unable to go to school, so she was educated at home and spent much of her time on her own, reading and drawing.

In 1908, when Cicely was 13, her father enrolled her at Croydon Art Society, where they both exhibited work. She also enrolled in a Correspondence Art course which she continued until 1918. At 16, Cicely was elected a life member of Croydon Art Society, the youngest person ever to receive this honour. 

In 1911, when she was 15 her father submitted some of her work to Raphael Tuck, the stationery printer, who bought four of her pictures for greeting cards. From this time onwards, she was able to sell her work to magazines, to postcard and greeting card manufacturers, and later to book publishers.  She sent her flower fairy paintings to several publishers before Blackie accepted them for publication in 1923. She was paid only £25 for a total of twenty-four illustrations and verses in Flower Fairies of the Spring, the first of the Flower Fairy series.


The Apple Blossom Flower Fairies

Cicely's family was deeply religious and she retained a strong Christian faith all her life.  Her strong religious and spiritual convictions are apparent in the number of religious books and postcards she produced -  eight mission postcards; a series of five birthday cards featuring angels and babies; illustrated Bible stories; and  panels and triptychs for chapels and churches including The Feeding of the Five Thousand for the chapel at Penarth and The Parable of the Great Supper for the chapel of St. George's Waddon.

Her faith informed all of her work, whether in cards, children's books or decorating the churches with which she was affiliated.  She was well aware of the source of her talents and was grateful for her gifts. The suffering she endured as a child served to strengthen her faith and appreciation of the beauty around her.

The style of her paintings was most influenced by the works of the illustrator Kate Greenaway,  whom she assiduously copied in her childhood.  But overall her style was her own.  The subject matter, however, was  influenced by  the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – and  this she acknowledged to be her  principal influence. 

I am very much interested in the Pre-Raphaelites. I have been, all my life, and I’ve tried to see as much of their work as I possibly can. . . .  I am to some extent influenced by them—not in any technical sense, but in the choice of subject-matter and the feeling and atmosphere they could achieve. I very much like, for example, the early paintings of Millais and though he is later, the wonderful things of Burne-Jones.

There were two concepts that John Ruskin wrote about in ‘Modern painters’— be truthful to nature; and art should serve a high moral or spiritual purpose. Cicely’s paintings try to honour this concept.  The paintings are clearly symbolic of the ‘spirit’ Cicely perceived in the plant. 

The drawing of the plant is always botanically accurate -  a faithful representation of the physical.  She would either ask the child model to hold the flower, twig or blossom,  or if she could not find a flower close at hand, she enlisted the help of staff at Kew Gardens, who would often visit with specimens for her to paint. 

In terms of the ‘spirit’, the fairy was always modelled by a real child, but the child was chosen and painted to represent the ‘characteristics’ Cicely perceived in the plant.  Thus for each material depiction of a flower she showed the apparent spiritual characteristics and further reinforced the depiction with the attached verse.  In spiritual terms she depicted ‘the archetype’.

References

Fairy books
Flower Fairies of the Spring,  1923,
Flower Fairies of the Summer,  1925,.
Flower Fairies of the Autumn,  1926,.
The Book of the Flower Fairies,  1927.
A Flower Fairy Alphabet, 1934.
Flower Fairies of the Trees, 1940,
Flower Fairies of the Garden,  1944
Groundsel and Necklaces,  1946, published as Fairy Necklaces.
Flower Fairies of the Wayside,  1948,.
Flower Fairies of the Flowers and Trees,  1950.
The Flower Fairy Picture Book,  1955.
Flower Fairies of the Winter,  1985,.
Flower Fairies of the Seasons, 1988.
 
Religious Christian books
A Little Book of Prayers and Hymns,  1994.
The Children’s Book of Hymns,  1929.
Beautiful Bible Pictures, 1932.
The Little Picture Hymn Book,  1933. 

Other books
Summer Songs with Music,  1926.
Spring Songs with Music,  1923.
Autumn Songs with Music,  1927.
Rhymes New and Old,  1933.
Old Rhymes for All Times. 1928.
A Little Book of Old Rhymes,  1936
A Little Book of Rhymes New and Old,  1937
The Lord of the Rushie River,  1938
When Spring Came In at the Window,  1942.
The Sand, the Sea and the Sun, Gibson, 1970.
Lively Stories, 1954.
Lively Numbers, Macmillan, 1957.
Lively, Words, Macmillan, 1961.

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