Barbara Helen Berger
Barbara Helen Berger’s career unfolded from her first love: drawing and painting. She was born in the Mojave Desert but grew up in the green Pacific Northwest, in a home where creativity was affirmed.
She studied art at the University of Washington in Seattle, at Yale Summer School of Music and Art, and at Tyler School of Art in Rome. After the year in Italy she returned to the UW to complete her BFA in Painting (1968). Then for a full decade she worked as a painter with regular gallery shows in Seattle.
During this time she also began exploring the spiritual life. Her first solo gallery show (1971) displayed influences of both East and West (Buddhism and Christianity). Her work became more metaphoric. As it progressed she realized the creative process was central to her own spiritual journey of deeper understanding.
In 1980, with a desire to bring words and images together, she turned toward children’s books. That year she studied with Jane Yolen, the masterful children’s book author, and this opened the way to a shift in Barbara’s career. She began applying her metaphoric art to illustration, starting with a tale by Jane Yolen, Brothers of the Wind.
After this fortunate initiation, Barbara went on to write and illustrate her own books. She found the children’s picture book a sophisticated, rich and demanding art form. It allowed her to explore the union of art and words, follow her inspiration, and touch many people’s lives at the same time.
Grandfather Twilight, her best-known picture book, has been called a goodnight classic. Her other titles include: Animalia, The Donkey’s Dream, When the Sun Rose, Gwinna, The Jewel Heart, A Lot of Otters, Angels on a Pin, Thunder Bunny and All the Way to Lhasa: A Tale from Tibet.
Berger’s books have received numerous honors and awards: such as the Parents’ Choice Foundation Award, the Golden Kite Award for Illustration from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Children’s Book Award, and twice a Washington State Governor’s Writers Award. Original art from her books has been included in many exhibitions around the country, as well as in solo gallery shows closer to home.
Having trained in fine art, it was Barbara’s work in children’s books that gave her an equal love for writing. She began writing for adults as well, drawn to personal essays and memoir. This work first appeared in Exhibition, Crone Chronicles, and Snowy Egret, then in two anthologies, one edited by Lee Gutkind, founder of Creative Nonfiction.
In recent years she has been a frequent contributor to Parabola magazine with her tale retellings and essays. Currently she is writing memoir as well as making visual art. She lives on Bainbridge Island, not far from Seattle in the green Pacific Northwest.
In 2006, Barbara was honored with an Island Treasure Award by the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council, in recognition of her work in both art and literature. She is grateful to live in a place where all the creative arts are so valued by the community.
A Name Note:
After Barbara’s first two books were published, she discovered there are several other authors who share the same name, Barbara Berger. To avoid confusion, her editor at Philomel Books suggested that she use her middle name. So Barbara Helen Berger is the name she has used professionally ever since. (Her family pronounces Berger with a soft “g” as in Berjer.)
Photo by Kari Berger