Happy 80th birthday to Carol Barker, illustrator and author
Written by David Bownes, co-curator of Poster Girls – a century of art and design.
The multi award-winning illustrator and author Carol Mintum Barker turns 80 on 16 February. I first met Carol last year while researching London Transport Museums Poster Girls exhibition, and I’m not surprised to learn that this sprightly artist is celebrating her landmark birthday teaching young women art and design in Rajasthan, India. In fact, Carol has been visiting and working in India since the 1970s, and has helped many women out of poverty and on to university through art education.
Her remarkable career began sixty years ago. Inspired by her artist father, John Rowland Barker, Carol attended Bournemouth College of Art, Chelsea Polytechnic and the Central School of Arts & Crafts. She became a freelance illustrator in 1958, eventually contributing to over 30 books. Until the late-1970s, her work was most closely associated with children’s book illustration, including a collaboration with the comedian Spike Milligan (The Bald Twit Lion, 1968). It was during this period that she designed four posters for London Transport (LT) promoting Fenton House (1966), London Museum (1969), Children’s London (1973) and London’s Museums (1979) – a selection of which can be seen in the current exhibition at Covent Garden. Her designs in pen and ink, watercolour, collage and wax, capture the joyful exuberance of the age, and are arguably among the best posters commissioned by LT at that time. London Museum in particular is a rich visual scrapbook of the Capital’s past, and visitors to Poster Girls are encouraged to compare the original 3D artwork with the printed poster (both on display). My favourite, though, is the Children’s London pair poster, which was praised by the internationally renowned design journal, Modern Publicity (1974) as one of the best British posters of the previous year.
Since 1977, Carol has undertaken several extensive research trips to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Africa, Tibet and elsewhere to produce non-fiction ‘picture-information’ books for children which sympathetically record day-to-day life in other cultures. On one of these trips she was given a rare private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Her work, often at the behest of international organisations such as Oxfam and the United Nations, has garnered critical acclaim and achieved worldwide publication.
David Bownes is the Director of twentiethcenturyposters.com
For more information about Poster Girls – a century of art and design and our public programme of events please visit www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events-calendar
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