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 Maginel Wright Barney  (1881 - 1966)

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Lived/Active: New York/Massachusetts      Known for: book illustrator, landscape, flower

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Ad Code: 4
Maginel Wright Barney
from Auction House Records.
Young girl with flowers
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Maginel Wright Enright Barney, sister of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is seldom remembered as a childrens book illustrator, except by discerning book collectors. Her work is charming, with lovely colors that exhibit the decorative sensibility typical of the early twentieth century.

Maginel Wright Enright was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was the youngest of three children, born to William and Anna (Lloyd-Jones); the eldest, Frank Lloyd Wright, always encouraged his sisters talent for drawing and painting. In 1883, her family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where her parents soon separated. She was surrounded by her mothers family and spent her summers on the farm. Initially, she was educated at home by her mother. When older brother Frank was starting his career as an architect, Maginel and her mother moved to Chicago in order to be closer to him. She enrolled in school there when she was twelve. She continued her studies at the Chicago Art Institute, but due to financial concerns could attend for only one year.

The 1890s through the early 1900s was a period of great innovation and experimentation in the art world. The opening of trade with Japan exposed the world to a new aesthetic. Art Nouveau was breaking all boundaries of traditional thought on everything from illustration to architecture. Conventional design had turned organic and decorative.

Between the two world wars, design took on a geometric twist called Art Deco. A visit to an exhibit of the French illustrator Boutet de Monvel had a great influence on Barneys style. His illustrations used simple flat shapes that reminded her of the Japanese prints that she had seen in her brother Franks studio. She adopted these simple flat shapes in her watercolors with little or no shading. Though her work did not exhibit the flowing lines of Art Nouveau, it was still decorative and stylized.

Her first job was as a commercial artist at Barnes, Crosby Co., an engraving company in Chicago, earning fifty dollars a week working on catalogs. It was her job to illustrate the figures on which the clothes would be shown. She has credited this job with teaching her to draw for reproduction. After working and saving for three years, she quit her job to take a trip to Europe with her mother. Upon her return, she married a young illustrator and cartoonist named Walter J. Enright.

The couple lived in Chicago until the birth of their child, Elizabeth, after which they moved to New York in order to pursue their respective careers as artists. They had a very social life in New York, and counted among their friends illustrator Maud Tousey Fangel. Eventually, Maginel and Walter divorced; she then married Hiram Barney, a lawyer who died in 1925.

Maginel Barney illustrated young classics Heidi, Hans Brinker of the Silver Skates and innumerable fairy tales. She was largely responsible for revolutionizing the quality of illustration in childrens readers, and over the years painted cover designs for many magazines, as well as illustrations in McClures, Everybodys Womans Home Companion, The Ladies Home Journal, Womans World, and others.

Childrens books were scarce during the depression so Barney turned her talents to tapestries, creating what she called long point, a type of needlepoint using colored wool and long stitches of varying length. During the 1940s, she became a shoe designer of high fashion womens shoes.

In 1965, she published her autobiography, The Valley of the God-Almighty Joneses. The title referred to her mothers family that settled in Wisconsin. She died on April 18, 1966 in East Hampton, New York at the age of eighty-four.

Her daughter, Elizabeth Enright (Gillham) became an author and illustrator of childrens books as well, and won the Newbery Medal in 1939 for Thimble Summer.

Barney has not left much information as to the reason why she chose a career in illustration. It is probably safe to assume, knowing that her brother was Frank Lloyd Wright, that the arts were appreciated and encouraged in her family. After her divorce, illustration provided a means of support for her and her young daughter.

(Information on the biography above is based, in part, on writings from the book, "The Illustrator in America, 1880-1980", A Century of Illustration, by Walt and Roger Reed.)

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