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Barber, Edwin Atlee, 1851-1916


Edwin Atlee Barber was Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1901 to 1916, and Honorary Curator of American Pottery and Porcelain from 1893 to 1916. His great interest was pottery, porcelain, and ceramics, primarily early American works. A scholar and prolific writer, Barber wrote numerous articles on his specialty, many of which were published. He remains today a pioneer scholar in his field.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1851, Barber's family included distinguished heroes of the Revolutionary War, as well as early captains of industry. When he was a child, Barber's family moved to Pennsylvania and then to Iowa, but Barber returned East for his schooling. He graduated from the Williston Seminary in East Hampton, Massachusetts, in 1869, and then attended Lafayette College where he studied English. In 1880, Lafayette College conferred upon Barber a Master of Arts degree, and in 1893, he received from the College a Doctorate of Philosophy.

In 1874, Barber went west with the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. The following year his travels took him to sites of Indian ruins in Utah and Arizona where his pottery interests most likely were stimulated. At this time Barber also was reporting for the New York Herald as a special correspondent. In 1879 Barber returned to the Philadelphia area to become a Post Office Superintendant and later an Officer of the U.S. Civil Service Examining Board.

Barber became involved with museum interests in Philadelphia. In 1879 he was appointed Chief of the Department of Archaeology of the Permanent Exhibit in Fairmount Park, and in 1893, was appointed Honorary Curator of Pottery and Porcelain at the then Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. In addition, he was the Secretary of the Corporation and Curator from 1901 to 1916. In a letter to Morris Carter of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Barber outlined his own tasks: "Secretary of the Corporation and various committees, Acting Curator of all the twelve departments of the Museum; arrange and install all of the collections, prepare all of the labels for printing; edit the Museum Bulletin and Annual Report, and prepare for publication all of the Guides, Handbooks, catalogues and Art Primers; conduct the Bureau of Identification of Art Objects; collect the annual Membership dues; act as Superintendent of the building and have direct charge of the guards and all other employees." Later in 1907, after Pepper's death, his title was changed from Curator to Director.

Barber's tenure at the Museum was during a critical period of growth and self-definition for the Museum. Through Barber's influence the Museum placed a great importance on the decorative arts, a focus which has remained through the years. An avid collector and a recognized authority, especially of Pennsylvania German pottery and early American glassware, Barber also is the author of the acclaimed text, Pottery and Porcelain of the United States.

Barber spelled his middle name with a capital L, as Edwin AtLee Barber, whenever the choice was left up to him; but others usually spelled it with a small l, including the Library of Congress. Barber married Nellie Louise Parker in 1880. On December 12, 1916, Barber died of pneumonia, and was survived by his wife and their daughter.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Dalton Dorr Records

Identifier: DOR
Abstract Dalton Dorr played a key role in the early years of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (later known as the Philadelphia Museum of Art). Dorr was elected Secretary of the Corporation in 1880. In 1888 he acted as both Secretary and Curator, and by 1892 he was performing the duties of Secretary, Director, and Curator. In 1899 William Platt Pepper took over as Director of the museum, and Dorr continued on as Curator and Secretary. Dalton Dorr died on February 26, 1901. Shortly...
Dates: 1876-1904

Directors Exhibition Records

Identifier: EXH
Abstract The Directors Exhibition Records of the Philadelphia Museum of Art contain documentation of exhibition activities at the museum. These records are not a comprehensive account of exhibitions held by the museum, but an ongoing file produced by the executive office in the course of administering exhibitions between 1915 and 1981. Museum directors during this period included Edwin AtLee Barber, Langdon Warner, Fiske Kimball, Henri Marceau, Evan Turner, and Jean Sutherland Boggs. Additional...
Dates: 1915-1983

Edwin AtLee Barber Papers

Identifier: EAB
Abstract This collection contains a small selection of writings and research by Edwin AtLee Barber.
Dates: 1885-1916

Edwin AtLee Barber Records

Identifier: BAR
Abstract The Edwin Atlee Barber Records contains correspondence covering a broad range of topics and is especially rich in correspondence regarding acquisitions, appraisal, and the identification and authentication of artifacts. They provide information about Barber’s role as both Curator/Director and administrator of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art and his activities as a scholar.
Dates: 1898-1933; Majority of material found within 1901-1916