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John Barker

AHS Art Collection


Born in Yorkshire, England, John Barker was the eldest son of a bankrupt agricultural machinery dealer. He was educated at the Primitive Methodist Jubilee School Elmfield, York. In 1884-1888 he was apprenticed to John W. Knowles, a glass painter and decorator of churches. Barker worked as a glass painter and decorator and studied at York School of Art in the 1890s. He won a scholarship to the South Kensington Art School but was unable to take it up. By 1890 he was working as a potter in Leeds. In 1893 he married seventeen-year-old Maud Leach. At this time he was recorded as a 'Pottery artist of Hunslet, Leeds’ where he was working for Maud’s uncle.

Barker and his wife had two sons, Leolin (Leo) born 1895 and John Leach born 1897 (known as Leach). John senior earned his living as a broad-based professional potter, painter and art teacher in Leeds, Derbyshire, Burton-on-Trent and Torquay until 1924. In Torquay he worked at the Ulla Vale Pottery and then became designer-manager at Watcombe Pottery. In 1914 he had attempted to set up his own pottery in Torvale but World War I ruined that effort. He was then involved in setting up a Devon souvenir pottery with decoration known as scandi. Barker had a reputation as an excellent glaze technician.

Both sons served in World War I and took returned servicemen’s packages to immigrate to Western Australia about 1922. They were attracted to the inland town of Narrogin by deposits of kaolin at nearby Popanyinning. The economy was poor in England in 1924 and the parents decided to join their sons and Maud’s sister Harriet and her husband Alan Bednall. The Leach girls were trained decorators brought up by their uncle Harold Leach at his Burmantofts Pottery in Leeds. The senior Barkers arrived in Australia in 1924 and went to Narrogin on 24 September 1924 to join the pottery. However problems of an undeveloped market structure and competitive imports exacerbated problems within the family group and the venture ended after about five years. Barker then painted and taught pottery and drawing.

In 1926 and 1927 Barker exhibited oil paintings and watercolours of scenes of Torbay and near Narrogin with the West Australian Society of Arts. In 1928 he had an exhibition with Muriel Southern in the Book Lover’s Library. He showed watercolours of fruit and flowers described as delightful as well as landscapes around Albany. An unnamed critic wrote “it is Mr Barker’s evening pictures that will probably attract most attention. They possess a depth of colour not often seen in water-color work, and a marshy study done in the evening light at Albany, with the bulrushes and the marshy growth, is well worth seeing.” He used the letters BWS (British Watercolour Society) after his name.


The Barkers moved to Albany in 1929 to stay with Leo and his wife Maree. John Barker concentrated on painting and teaching painting and exhibiting. He was a typical turn-of-the-century artist willing or able to undertake any type of art. His paintings exhibited in 1939 with the Perth Society of Artists were described as “typical studies, with dark trees, silvery light, and vapourous clouds”. He died in 1943.

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Works by this artist

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