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A family occasion

Billy Shortall.

TCD Library is home to the Cuala Business Archive (TCD MS 11535). However, like all archives, inevitably it is incomplete as materials over the years of the business and subsequent storage may be discarded or damaged. Of what does remain, Cuala’s minute books, artist lists, and sample designs for prints and embroideries are, arguably, among its most important artefacts, and as shown in earlier posts in this series, this material enables a deeper understanding of Cuala Industries, the Irish Arts and Crafts movement, and Irish history more widely. Historian Anne Dolan has stated that because history is written from available records, and these may show people in a professional capacity, or at their lowest, such as, in court reports, military pensions, business troubles, the happier moments, unrecorded times of play, holidays, relationships, are often overlooked. This blog is about a happy Yeats family occasion with threads to the TCD Cuala Business archive.

Ruth Lane-Poole (née Pollexfen) (1886-1974) has been referenced before in this blog series. Ruth was made Lily Yeats’s ward in 1900 when her father, Lily’s maternal uncle, Fred Pollexfen separated from his wife Henrietta. While both Yeats sisters were involved in her upbringing, she formed a mother-daughter relationship with Lily. Ruth’s education fees were paid by a Pollexfen uncle, but she also received art instruction in Elizabeth’s art classes, Lily mentored her in embroidery, and her granduncle John B. Yeats instructed her in art appreciation before he emigrated to New York. Eventually, Ruth would provide needlecraft designs to Cuala.

In 1911, Ruth married Charles Lane-Poole, who she met while he was studying engineering in Dublin. After he lost his left hand in a shooting accident, he studied forestry at the French National Forestry School at Nancy. Joining the British Colonial Service he worked in South Africa, Sierra Leone, Papua, and Western Australia. The move to Australia enabled the Lane-Poole family to settle in a permanent home. For the first five years of their marriage, and a period in the early 1920s, Ruth lived in Dublin as Charles travelled with work. During these periods she continued to provide designs for Cuala embroideries with her signature changing to her married name.

Ruth Lane-Poole (née Pollexfen), Embroidery designs for Cuala Industries, pencil, and watercolour. TCD MS 11535/6/2/2/5 and TCD MS 11535/6/2/1/1.

Ruth sent her uncle, John Butler Yeats, in New York a copy of her wedding booklet and referred to herself as ‘a daughter brought up by Lily’. After the marriage Lily wrote that she felt ‘lost and desolate’ but presented outwardly happiness and joy for her surrogate daughter.

Ruth and Charles’ wedding booklet. Not printed at Cuala Press.

The photograph at the beginning of this blog is from a Canberra exhibition catalogue about the Lane-Pooles. It shows some of the wedding party outside St. Columba’s College Chapel, Rathfarnham on 20th July 1911. The happy couple are central. A contemporary newspaper report in The Irish Independent (21st July 1911), stated that ‘An extremely pretty and interesting wedding took place yesterday … between Ruth, daughter of F. M. Pollexfen, Sligo, and Charles E. Lane Poole, son of Professor Stanley Lane Poole, the great Arabic savant. The service was fully choral, the College choir giving a beautiful rendering of the bridal hymns, and the Chapel was most tastefully decorated with blue hydrangeas and white lilies… The bride who was given away by her cousin, Mr W. B. Yeats, wore a lovely gown of soft white satin, hand-painted round the skirt and bodice with a wreath of myrtle and foliage, veiled by a tunic of ninon; her veil of old Limerick lace was fastened to the hair by a coronet of myrtle…’ Both the lace and coronet still survive and were part of the display in the Canberra exhibition. The report provides extensive descriptions of the bridesmaids and the reception. It is known from other sources that W. B.’s suit was designed by Sir Hugh Lane and made in Saville Row, the home of leading British gents outfitters. The newspaper report then turns to the guests, ‘Miss [L] Yeats wore a graceful gown of natural coloured Shantung piped with pale blue, and a willow-green hat trimmed with shaded grapes, and carried a bouquet of mauve sweet peas; Miss E. Yeats was in a jade green satin gown, with a silk crepon tunic edged fringe, toque of mauve and pink stocks, and had a bouquet of pink roses tied with mauve ribbons; … Mrs. Jack Yeats had on a pretty Paisley dress with band of blue and gold ninon, a black silk coat trimmed with fringe, and a “Peggy” toque wreathed with satin roses; …’ Although the newspaper report was not accompanied by a photograph, this portion of the report identifies the three women in conversation on the right of the photograph above as Lily, Elizabeth, and Mary Cottenham Yeats.

Among the many other guests listed were, Miss Sara Allgood (Abbey actress and academy award nominee), artists Beatrice Elvery and Pamela Coleman Smith, and, for an unknown reason, ‘the girls of the Art Industrial School and the boys of the College’ were in attendance. Artist George Russell and his wife were among the many others present.

The extensive report adds, ‘The wedding presents, in number about 135, have been on view for the last few days at the Misses Yeats’ residence, Gurteen Dhas, Churchtown, Co. Dublin.’ These included embroideries, paintings, and silver. W. B. Yeats gave the limited-edition issue of his eight volume The Collected Works in Verse and Prose of William Butler Yeats (1908) as his present to the bride and groom.

Silver napkin rings with their initials given to Charles and Ruth Lane Poole as a wedding present, made by Ramsden & Carr, London, 1911. Image from Canberra exhibition catalogue.

In Australia, Ruth became a respected interior designer and was the subject of an important retrospective in 2021, at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, ‘Ruth Lane-Poole: A Woman of Influence’. This exhibition highlighted the importance of her early career in Cuala on her later design work that ‘had a profound impact on Australian home furnishing and interior design, especially in Canberra’. The exhibition featured Ruth’s commission in 1926 to design the Prime Minister and Governor General’s residences for which she ordered two embroidered bedspreads and some prints from Cuala Industries.  These bedspreads described in an earlier Cuala Blog post were publicly exhibited in Dublin before being despatched to Australia. On arrival, they were first exhibited in Melbourne before going on to Canberra. Examples of Ruth’s embroidery and furniture designs (which share her husband’s devotion to Australian timbers) are in Australian public collections and her design philosophy was espoused in her many articles for design journals, including The Australian Home Builder and The Australian Home Beautiful. An article by Ruth in Table Talk (12th May 1927) was illustrated with a Cuala Industries’ bedspread.

Cuala’s books, prints, and embroideries were exhibited and advertised for sale in Australia and many other countries in the first half of the twentieth century. Writing in an Australian Book journal in 1954 about ‘Fifty years of the Cuala Press’, Dr Thomas Joseph Kiernan, Ireland’s first diplomatic representative in Australia, concluded, ‘The huge exertions, devotion, and little capital of the Yeats sisters [Cuala Industries] are one the large assets in the cultural balance sheet of Ireland in this mid-20th century.’

Sources used:

  1. Gifford Lewis, The Yeats sisters and the Cuala, (Dublin: IAP, 1994).
  2. Cuala Press Project website available at https://www.tcd.ie/library/research-collections/projects/cuala/
  3. Ruth Lane-Poole, A Woman of Influence, (Canberra Museum +Gallery, 2021) available at https://issuu.com/canberramuseumandgallery/docs/rlpcatalogue_combined
  4. Cuala Press Business Archives (TCD MS 11535) see details at https://stella.catalogue.tcd.ie/iii/encore/record/C__Rb20698329
  5. Ruth Lane Poole collection, National Gallery of Ireland: Yeats Archive, IE/NGI/Y17 see details at https://www.nationalgallery.ie/sites/default/files/2017-09/Y17%20Ruth%20Lane%20poole%20collection.pdf
  6. Irish and Australian newspaper archives.
  7. National Library of Australia holds over 100 designs by Ruth Lane-Poole.