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Cuala Press Prints Project

A collection of one hundred and eleven hand-coloured Cuala Press Prints (TCD MS 11574) was donated to the Manuscripts and Archives Research Collection in Trinity College Dublin where they are currently being catalogued as part of a project to make them accessible to researchers. It is a visually stunning collection and represents an important part of Irish visual culture. It also includes work by many female artists from the early 20th century. The collection was a gift from a private individual who built the  collection in the  mid 20th century and the philanthropically-funded project to make them available includes the appointment of an archivist, a conservator, a digital photographer and a post-doctoral researcher in the history of art. The project will not only focus on the new collection of prints but will also look at the business archives of the Cuala Press itself (TCD MS 11535). Thus, we will ensure and enhance the usability, visibility and accessibility of these significant materials to support the teaching, learning and research needs of staff, students and the wider research community.  

So, let me introduce myself! My name is Ciara Daly and I am the Project Archivist on the Cuala Press Prints project. I am from Galway and graduated from the National University of Ireland, Galway with a Bachelor of Arts in English and History and a Master of Arts in English Literature, where I had my first experience with archives.  This inspired me to volunteer part time in NUIG Archives while I was also working in the James Hardiman Library, NUIG. Subsequently, in 2018, I undertook the Masters of Archives and Records Management in University College Dublin. Pre-Coronavirus, I worked in the National Gallery of Ireland where I worked on cataloguing and digitizing their Irish Art Collection in the ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art. I am delighted to be working on another strongly visual collection that represents not only the output of an iconic female-led industry but also the output of female designers and artists from the 20th century. The collection of Cuala Press prints which I am working on now is an important collection in the history of the Press. These prints became the financial backbone of the Press as they were easy to reproduce once the photoengraving was complete and were commercially viable, appealing to an extremely wide audience.  

The project began while I was required to work from home. I undertook in-depth research into The Cuala Press, and the Yeats sisters; and using the lists of the prints which accompanied the donation, I began to research some of the artists involved in the design of the prints. I was able then to create a template and format the information for eventual ingest into the Library’s online catalogue. Once I was able to come to campus there was talk of the possibility of a further complete national lockdown; therefore, I needed to prepare to continue to work from home. I took photographs and measurements of every item in the collection to allow myself to research and catalogue them from anywhere. In the end, I was able to continue my work on-site in safe socially-distant conditions and I was able to begin to process the collection.  

There are several stages to processing a collection before it can be made available, the prints have been initially appraised so an arrangement could be decided on; they have been catalogued onto Excel, arranged and renumbered according to the arrangement and have been uploaded onto Library’s online catalogue. Phase one of the project is nearly complete with the initial one hundred and eleven prints being fully catalogued; they have to be examined by a conservator to ensure that they are in a condition to be handled by researchers; they will also be digitized upon the appointment of the digital photographer and will be put online for remote access.  

One of the aims of the project is to promote the collection on social media to encourage engagement with the Cuala Press prints and the Cuala Press Archive;  the Archive and Records Associations outreach campaign #ExploreYourArchive in November was the perfect time to showcase the uniquely beautiful prints. We can be found on Instagram @TCDlibrary and on Twitter using @TCDResearchcoll. We will also be showcasing the #WomenoftheCuala in our next blog post. It is a pleasure and privilege to work on this collection and I am enjoying coming across the beautiful prints that the collection has to offer.  

Featured image is titled Burning Kelp designed by Dorothy Blackham (1896–1975) with an Indian proverb (MS 11574/2/6).

Images in gallery are as below:

May Plenty Bloom designed by Elizabeth Corbet Yeats (1868-1940) with poem by James Orr MS11574/18/5
Little House designed by Elizabeth Corbet Yeats (1868-1940) with poem by Winnifred M. Letts MS11574/18/1
Silver Apples designed by Victor Brown with poem by W.B Yeats (1900 -1953) MS11574/5/1

Autumn Beauty designed by Dorothy Isobel Blackham (1896–1975) with poem by W.B Yeats MS11574/2/4
Let Us Sing and Dance designed by Dorothy Isobel Blackham (1896–1975) with a poem by James Stephens MS11574/2/13
Heart’s Desire designed by Sheila Goold Verschoyle  (1903-2000) with a poem by Eleanor Sinclair MS11574/17/1
O Wind designed by Mary Cottenham Yeats (1869-1947) with a poem by John Todhunter MS11574/20/6