17th May 2022 by

Happy Birthday, Lady Barber!

Portrait by James Jebusa Shannon [1912]

The founder of the Barber Institute, Lady Barber, was born on 16 May 1869 as Martha Constance Hattie Onions. After an education at Cheltenham Ladies College, she married the Birmingham solicitor and property developer, William Henry Barber.

Learn more about her, and the University art gallery and concert hall that bear her name, by visiting the Barber’s current display, The Founding of the Barber Institute: An Arts Centre Ahead of its Time. The story of how she turned her vision – to provide “an Institute to be used by the University in perpetuity for the study and encouragement of Art and Music” into a reality – is explored with the help of rarely-seen archive material, including photographs, architectural blueprints, correspondence and a copy of the Trust Deed.

Before his death, Sir Henry and Lady Barber had discussed establishing a permanent contribution to Henry’s home city, and Lady Barber ensured that this idea came to fruition, founding the Barber Institute in 1932. She died, childless, four months later, leaving the entire Barber fortune to the Trustees of the Institute to enable the construction of a new building, the development of the art collection and the funding of public concerts.

This free exhibition is open until 12 June

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