On Aviles Street


The wall on the left is part of the Convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The house on the right is now a bed and breakfast, but in the late 1940s it was the home for Mary and Lin Barker, my mother’s sisters. They had a flat on the second floor overlooking the nuns’ swimming pool. Across the hall from them was the artist, Carl Austin. They became good friends.
Not long after the war, my mother came down to St. Augustine to visit them and wound up staying. Her husband was a B-29 pilot flying out of China who had died when his aircraft was shot down over Japan. His parents never accepted that he was dead, making it difficult to stay in Tennessee. She took advantage of the G.I. Bill to buy a small house on Palmetto Street in the Lighthouse area of Anastasia Island. Mary and Lin joined Marjorie and her daughter, Link.
Carl Austin painted portraits of Mom, Maura and I. When cleaning out the Barker house in Georgia after all the Barkers had passed away, we also found a number of watercolor sketches of the Barker girls and Link. They are very special treasures.
Carl returned to Illinois to take care of his mother. He returned to St. Augustine in the early 1990s. His health was not good and it would not be long before he also passed away.

Sitting on the Moon

Carl and Mary

This photo of Mary Randolph Barker (1922-1995) and Carl Frederick Austen (1914-1999) was taken sometime in the late 1940s. Mary and her sister, Lin (1916-1994), had moved to St. Augustine about 1945. Carl was an Illinois native who discovered St. Augustine while stationed at Camp Blanding in the early 1940s. After receiving a medical discharge from the Army, he settled here about 1943. By 1947, Mary and Lin lived across the hall from Carl in what the sisters described as tiny efficiency apartments on Aviles Street not far from the city’s central plaza. Mary worked at a bank located on the plaza and Lin worked for a construction company in the same building.

Carl was making a name for himself as an artist. In 1945 the local paper described an exhibit of his work stating that the “versatility of Austen’s work impresses one as much as his craftsmanship”. In addition to his portraits, he was well known for his caricatures. A mural painted down the hallway leading to a popular restaurant and lounge depicted many local residents – including the Barker sisters. Unfortunately that mural was lost when the building was demolished years later.

After the war, the third Barker sister, Marjorie (1920-1981), came to visit. Marjorie was a war widow with a young daughter. She returned soon after to live in St. Augustine and by 1949 she was teaching at Mill Creek School north of town and owned a small house on Palmetto Avenue in the Lighthouse Park area of Anastasia Island. She quickly became a part of this group. According to Mary, Carl would do sketches as Christmas presents for his friends. This one shows (from left to right) Mary, Marjorie, Lin, Link (Marjorie’s daughter) and Carl as the photographer.

Christmas sketch by Carl Austen

Christmas sketch by Carl Austen

In the late 1950s, Carl returned to Illinois to care for his aging mother. Occasional letters kept these friends updated over the years. He returned to St. Augustine in the 1980s and stayed in this area until his death in 1999. He is buried in the national cemetery near Bushnell, Florida.

Marjorie married William H. Barrett, Jr. in 1950. They had three children – two daughters and a son. Carl painted portraits of Marjorie and both daughters in the early 1950s. She remained in St. Augustine until her death in 1981. She is buried at New Hope South Baptist Church in Holland, Georgia.

Mary and Lin moved to New Orleans where they lived for several years before returning to Georgia. They bought a farm in Chattooga County near the old Barker homestead on Kincaid Mountain. After he retired, their brother moved back with them and all three spent the rest of their lives in the county where they were born. They, too, are buried at New Hope South Baptist Church.

Sources:

  • Torchia, Robert W., Lost Colony: The Artists of St. Augustine, 1930-1950, Lightner Museum, 2001.
  • Photo from Mary Barker’s photo album. In the possession of the author.
  • Sketch from Mary Barker’s personal collection. Original in the possession of family members.