Like much of his art, the correspondence of George Grey Barnard with his family and friends presents almost every thought and activity as a larger than life experience. More than half the letters are those Barnard wrote to his parents and siblings over an approximate 25-year period, from his student days in Paris to his years working on the monumental sculptural project for the capitol building in Harrisburg (PA). Assuring his parents of "long and hard work" as "the only way to attain great heights," a young Barnard announces at the end of his academic training that he has reached the stage where "technique is secondary" and that it is "his passion and poetry" that define his art. Apparently confident in his ways, Barnard also gives frequent advice to his sisters Mae and "Toots" and to his brother Evan on the importance and manner of serious study and work. No doubt influenced by his father's calling to the ministry, Barnard often reflects on his life and art in relation to a higher being, as when he writes to his father that art is only worthy when the "soul of man and God [is its] cornerstone." His spiritual devotion, in turn, also leads Barnard to frequent pronouncements of his devotion to his parents and their reliance on one another, which is not only spiritual but material. For example, in trying to obtain various commissions, Barnard asks his parents to contact others on his behalf or to gather up any clippings publicizing his artistic achievements. Conversely, Barnard often sends money to his parents, even when he is pressed financially, which apparently occurs frequently. As his letters attest throughout his career, Barnard finds himself (and later, his own family) on the brink of financial disaster, and his musings on these situations are no less passionate. Comparing himself with Michelangelo and Phidias, Barnard often broods over his art not being appreciated, particularly in his own country. Because Barnard often describes his works simply as "groups" or "busts," it is difficult to identify specific project titles. In much of his early correspodence, Barnard regularly writes of several close acquaintances, including the family of Alfred Corning Clark, the Hovelaque family and an unidentified Frank and Charles, the latter described as a singer of some success in Europe. A few later letters pertain to Barnard's trials and tribulations of buying and selling French antiquities and constructing his own cloisters in Washington Heights.
The next significant group of letters is that between Barnard and his wife Edna. Most of the letters date from their early years of courtship and marriage, from 1893 to 1895. Both write as young romantics, revealing a passion tempered by spiritual devotion. In some of the later letters, they discuss two of their children, Vivia and Monroe, while Barbara is never mentioned, at least by name. According to a letter Edna wrote to her in-laws, dated November 11, 1910, there may have been a fourth child, Prudence. However, that is the only reference ever made. There are also several letters written between Edna and other members of her family, including her sisters, Alice and May, as well as her mother who apparently was nicknamed "Lambie." Included in the few third-party letters is one pertaining to Evan W. Grubb, a maternal relative of Barnard's, who was killed in action during the Civil War.
Many letters have pages missing, and approximately one-quarter of the correspondence remains undated. Based on content, a number of letters were assigned approximate dates during processing. With many letters, there is a note apparently by Williams giving a summary of topics as well as other comments. These are brief notations, unlike the typed copies of letters he made, which are processed as part of the "Working Notes" series. The pencil notations on the acid-free paper wrapped around each letter were made during processing.