In the Garden with Flower Fairies

I have always loved the illustrations of garden or flower fairies. The innocence and delicacy in which they are rendered is so lovely. As a child I thought that flower fairies were mysterious, charming, and whimsical little people who grew from flowers and that I could actually find them in hiding my own garden. When I used to play with my dolls outside, I would create little villages under the flowers and shrubs with my tiny dolls and make believe that they were my flower fairies.

Cicely Mary Barker {June 28, 1895 ~ February 16, 1973}* was the illustrator who created the famous Flower Fairies, in the shape of ethereal smiling children with butterfly wings. She was unable to go to public school as a child because of her epilepsy, therefore home-schooled and spent much of her time drawing and painting.

In her formative years, illustrator Kate Greenaway was a tremendous influence on her style, as well as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. She developed her talent further as a member of the Croydon Art Society in South London, the town in which she was born, when her father enrolled her at the young age of thirteen. Her flower fairy paintings were driven by the Victorian popularity of fairies and fairy stories of the time. Queen Mary even encouraged the vogue for fairy paintings during the 1920s by often sending postcards of flower fairies to her friends.

Cicely Mary Barker always used children to model for her paintings. She would ask the child model to hold the flower, twig, or blossom so that she could capture the botanical accuracy of the plant. She has been compared to Beatrix Potter in her depictions of the plants and flowers in which the fairies dwell.

Beginning in 1911, when she was just fifteen, her work was being printed on greeting cards. From that point onward, she was selling her work to magazines, postcard and greeting card manufacturers, and book publishers. Cicely’s fairies are not the fairies of the supernatural, but portraits of real children whose characters match the characters of the flowers ~ they are notable because of the sweet and realistic depiction of the children.

Original prints of her work are still available today, as well as numerous books, calendars, posters, and stationery items. She was a timeless and classic illustrator and artist ~ her work continues to be enjoyed and will be for many generations.

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One of the projects during the En Le Jardin art workshop earlier this month was to create a fairy garden ornament, using a grapevine ball which was provided and whatever else we wanted, such as ribbons, lace, moss, vintage photographs, ephemera, millinery flowers, etc. It all sounded good; however, this is usually not my medium ~ although I was anxious to find out what kind of “assemblage artist” I could become.

Rather than selecting a random vintage photograph to use as my “Garden Fairy,” I thought to use an old photo of my mother that I have always loved. It is a photograph of her when she was about five years old, living in San Francisco ~ probably taken either at a photo studio at the old White House or Emporium department store in Union Square.

Before the workshop I gathered together some pretty vintage jewelry, wire ribbon, tassels, and other good stuff. I received so many lovely items from the art swap in which we all participated, that I was able to use even more beautiful pieces on my garden ornament.

I first inserted a little bird’s nest, some twigs, and then added my pretty mocha and cream coloured ribbons and a pearl and rhinestone earring to the bow. {I do not have pierced ears and could not wear these earrings, but one was perfect for this!} Creamy white and pale green velvet millinery blooms and leaves are scattered around the outside of the grapevine ball and a small garland of soft white velvet blossoms wraps around the little nest inside.

I fastened a hand made charm from a chain inside the ball right next to my “mini-mom” cut out, added some vintage sheet music butterfly wings to her back, and burnished the edges with copper ink.

Finally, one more velvet blossom and some leaves at the top bow and an antique golden coloured tassel hanging from the bottom.

I absolutely love how this turned out. I had a little plan, but when everything just came together so nicely and fit so perfectly I was thrilled. So much so that I am thinking about making a few more using some old family photographs that we have put away in the attic and in scrapbooks. What a beautiful story that would be to have a “family tree” of Flower Fairies!

Ciao amici,

Some of the biographical information about Cicely Mary Barker was taken from Wikipedia.