Mary Barker, hand-weaver, artist and teacher, was born in Long Ashton, Somerset, in 1907. She studied for a Diploma in Textile Industries and Design at Leeds University and Leeds School of Art, where she was the only female student in her year of more than 70 students. She specialized in silk weaving. In 1930 she took up an appointment in the design studio of John Crossley and Sons carpet firm, where designs were painted out in repeat. During the war, Mary Barker enjoyed serving as a Paymaster in WRNS, which she later wrote about in her autobiography as having boosted her confidence when she returned to art school. She took her Art Teacher’s Diploma at the Hornsey School of Art, specializing in weaving and running a weaving evening class at the same time. She eventually became a member of the regular part-time staff there, and then began teaching at the Brighton School of Art in 1950.
From 1950, Barker also began to visit Ethel Mairet’s weaving workshop at Ditchling, ‘the Gospels’ , where she met many other talented weavers. As Margot Coatts describes in her obituary of Barker, she was encouraged to weave in her own style, “using Mairet’s collection of luxurious silk and wool yearns combined with industrially spun cotton. Elegant, gauze-weave stoles and scarves fom the late phase of the Gospels (1950-1952) are attributed to her” (The Independent, 3 February 1999). Barker was, according to Enid Russ, in her ‘Recollections of Mary Burch Barker, MBE’ (Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers 190, June 1999,p11) ”… a stimulating travelling companion, knowledgeable and opinionated and always alert to interesting details […] She loved hand-weaving and wanted others to enjoy it and to understand its relevance. She believed in teaching by example.”
Barker moved to Brighton in 1959, and her work began to attract more attention and be exhibited more widely. Her silk and wool abstract hangings were shown in the exhibition ‘Weaving for Walls’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1965. She showed her work with the Brighton Phoenix Group from late 50s to 1982. For many years she was closely involved in the editorial committee of the Quarterly Journal of the Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, frequently contributing articles and reviews herself. She received her MBE in 1992 and wrote an autobiography, Tangled Threads, which was published in 1998. She died in Brighton in 1999.