Illustrator and poet Cicely Mary Barker was born in Croydon, London on 28 June 1895, to Walter Barker and Mary Eleanor Oswald. Her father was a wood-carver by profession: in 1909, he donated a hand-carved pulpit to the family church, St. Edmund's in Croydon. At a young age, Cicely showed signs of creative talent and she was encouraged by her family to develop her skills.

Cicely's childhood was marked with severe epilepsy which afflicted her until shortly after World War I. Because of her condition, she was educated at home by her mother and a governess. She began evening classes at the Croydon School of Art at the age of thirteen, at which time she began to make postcards of her work.

Cicely's sister Dorothy ran a kindergarten at the family home and she based many of her works on sketches of the children. The most famous of these were known as 'Shakespeare's Children', 'Children of the Allies' and 'Fairy Cards', the latter of which were published as postcards by publisher Raphael Tuck when she was 15.

After the death of her father in 1912, Cicely helped to support the family by selling poetry and illustrations to magazines such as My Magazine, Child’s Own, Leading Strings and Raphael Tuck annuals.

Barker created her first book, Flower Fairies of the Spring in 1923. She modelled children from her sister's kindergarten in fairy costumes that she designed herself and painted them as fairies, each one assigned to a particular flower or tree. Every fairy was accompanied with a brief poem. For example:

The Song of the Yew Fairy

Here, on the dark and solemn Yew,
A marvel may be seen,
Where waxen berries, pink and new,
Appear amid the green.

I sit a-dreaming in the tree,
So old and yet so new;
One hundred years, or two, or three
Are little to the Yew.

I think of bygone centuries,
And seem to see anew
The archers face their enemies
With bended bows of Yew

The Flower Fairies were received with critical acclaim and established her as one of the preeminent illustrators of her time. As one admirer commented, "I love her drawings because she sketches fairies the way I've always imagined them." They were to be a central theme in Barker's artwork for the rest of her life. Barker continued the series with seven more volumes until 1948. It is interesting to note that she never compiled a book of winter fairies.

Barker worked in watercolours, ink or oils. She dedicated herself to the Pre-Raphaelite style, which suited her talent for botanical drawings:

"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."

Devoutly Christian, she often donated pictures to churches to be sold for charity. One of her paintings, The Darling of the World is Come was purchased by Queen Mary in 1925.

Cicely Mary Barker painted until her eyesight failed her towards the end of her life. She died in Worthing Hospital in 1973.

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