Date: American painter, illustrator, and printmaker, 1858–1932
Biography: Alice Barber (Stephens) (1858-1932) was born near Salem, NJ. She was eighth of the nine children of Quaker couple Samuel Clayton Barber and Mary Owen. After her family moved to Philadelphia, she enrolled at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art) at age 15, where she was a full-time student by 1873. Her skill in wood engraving, an art needed by book and magazine publishers before photo-mechanical reproduction became current, led to her professional employment as an engraver during her student years. In 1876 she enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the first year women were admitted, and studied with Thomas Eakins. She worked in various media, including oil, ink, charcoal, and watercolor.
Financial considerations forced her to turn to full-time engraving, but by 1885, when the long hours and close work affected her health, she had turned to pen and ink drawing and was working steadily in illustration in that medium. During a trip to Europe for academic study, she took up oil painting; while in Paris she exhibited at the Salon in 1887. When she returned, she supported herself with pen and ink illustration and painted only for her personal expression.
In 1890 the artist married Charles Hallowell Stephens, another Academy student who was by this time a teacher there. They had one child: D. Owen Stephens (1984-1937), also an artist. In 1894, she attended Howard Pyle's illustration course at Drexel Institute. She continued to work as an illustrator, now often in color and with the softer effect produced by paint rather than pen and ink. Her talents were equally effective in the domestic genre stories then popular in magazines such as Harper's, Scribner's, Century, and The Ladies' Home Journal, and in more dramatic illustrations for works by authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Hamlin Garland, and Louisa May Alcott. In 1895, The Philadelphia Inquirer noted about her that "there is scarcely any American illustrator better known to-day."
Barber Stephens was one of the founders of The Plastic Club in 1897. She served as vice president every year from 1897 through 1912. She was active in the establishment of the Fellowship of the Academy of fine Arts, and served on its Board for several years. She was also a popular lecturer and teacher (at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women), and judge of art and photography exhibitions. There were numerous exhibitions of her work during her lifetime. In 1984, more than 50 years after her death, the Brandywine River Museum held an exhibition of her work.
In 1904, the Stephenses moved into Thunderbird Lodge, a house designed for them by Will Price, in the utopian community of Rose Valley, PA. Alice Barber Stephens died there in 1932. She is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, PA.
Her papers are in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution.
Brown, Ann Barton. Alice Barber Stephens: A Pioneer Woman Illustrator. Brandywine River Museum, 1984
Goodman, Helen. "Women illustrators of the golden age of American illustration" Woman's Art Journal 8, no. 1 (1987): 13-22