Words by Jessica Peace
Don’t underestimate Cicely Mary Barker’s ‘Flower Fairies’ - and their poetry, yes they lived in children’s books but these little nymphs knew their horticulture, folklore and how to wear a petal or two. Barker is up there with Beatrix Potter as a plantswoman and artist, and with Kenneth Graham as a ‘Children’s writer’ with her beauty and depth.
FAIRIES THROUGH ADVERSITY
Barker’s illustrations spill over with rich life and colour but they were born of tough times for Barker and family. Her Dad died when she was just seventeen leaving her and her sister to try and put bread on the table; her sister set up a kindergarten and Barker used these tumbling tots as models for her fairies (some who turned up to see the exhibition - just a little older!).
Five years after managing to get a bunch of postcards published she was able to start on her books. Now her private life had found some stability due to her income, talk of World War II began and had a profound effect on Barker. She began the ‘Alphabet’ series which shows a notable difference to the tone of her poetry and illustrations, her fairies now become protectors and carers of their plants; they are also often drawn in pairs, including the (snogging!) ‘Gorse Fairies’, this is Barker gesturing to peace and compassion:
‘O dreary would the world be/ With everyone grown cold/ … But this will never happen/ ... You’ll find one bit of blossom -/ A kiss from someone dear!’ (The Gorse Fairies)
During the war Barker found it difficult to continue with her work, however, after the war ended her work evolved again. Barker begun trudging through hedgerows and ditches to find rarer specimens and began her communication with Kew Gardens as she found plants she’d never met before to turn into new characters, like the ‘Cat’s-ear Fairy’.
The exhibition has 49 original illustrations, the original postcards and books, personal notebooks, letters, rough sketches and watercolours. Get yourself down to The Garden Museum soon, the exhibition ends September 30th.
We picked up the ‘Treasury’ from the children’s table and carried it around with us to match up the poems with the illustrations, grab it if it’s knockin’ about.
Not too dear, a standard ticket costs a tenner and includes ALL of the museum, even climbing up the tower.
Student/Unemployed/Art Pass £5
LET ME IN?
Check before you leave…
Closed first Monday of each month.
GET ME THERE
By Lambeth Bridge mate, jump off the bus at ‘Lambeth Palace’ or the tube at Vauxhall, Waterloo, Westminster or Lambeth North and walk down.