While this blog series focuses on the Cuala Industries, it is interesting to look to their Irish contemporaries working in craft printing. With its establishment in 1922, Cluna Studios emerged as the main competitor to the Cuala Press and Industries, most noticeably in the profitable line of hand coloured art prints and cards.
In ‘Announcements by Members of the Guild of Irish Art-Workers’ published in the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland and Guild of Irish Art-Workers Seventh Exhibition catalogue of 1925, notices for the Cuala and Cluna studios faced each other. Both advertised their hand-coloured prints, cards, calendars, embroidery, and painted wood items such as, candlesticks, bowls, boxes, hairbrushes, and so on. Cuala alone sold hand-printed books. Like Cuala, and the Dun Emer studies, the Cluna Studio was an arts and crafts enterprise established by women craftworkers, namely Gertrude (Gertie) Grew and Margaret (Daisy) O’Keefe, when Ireland was on the cusp of independence.
Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), an Anglo-Irish contemporary of Jane Austen, was probably the most famous and most prolific woman novelist writing in English in her time. She was also renowned for her educational stories and pedagogical publications produced with her father; she worked closely with him and a succession of stepmothers to educate her 21 half-siblings. As a famous writer and member of a large and eventually far-flung family, Edgeworth produced a massive quantity of correspondence over her lifetime, much of it with important writers, thinkers, and politicians of her day. There are at least 10,000 extant sheets of Edgeworth’s correspondence held in archives and private collections around the world.
Not only do Edgeworth’s letters contain important contexts for her novels and educational texts, they also provide key narratives of literary and historical figures (among them Sir Walter Scott, Madame de Staël, William Wordsworth, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Frances Burney), places (including Ireland, London, and Paris), and events (such as the French invasion of Ireland, the aftermath of the Act of Union, and the great Irish famine) around the turn of the nineteenth century. The letters also reveal Edgeworth’s own engagement in nineteenth-century scientific discourse and in questions of anti-semitism.
Only selections of Edgeworth’s vast correspondence have been published. The Maria Edgeworth Letters Project (https://mariaedgeworth.org/) seeks to remedy this gap in scholarship by creating a digital space where Edgeworth’s full correspondence is made available, searchable, and annotated through a collaborative open-access project. Jessica Richard (Wake Forest University), Robin Runia (Xavier University), Susan Egenolf (Texas A&M University), and Hilary Havens, (University of Tennessee) are the faculty co-editors; the project is supported by the digital scholarship faculty and staff at Wake Forest University, University of Tennessee, and Texas A&M. In 2022 the Maria Edgeworth Letters Project was awarded a significant grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund its continued development.
The vast quantity of Edgeworth letters and the length of many of the individual letters (she sometimes wrote 30-page letters!) make the digital environment ideal for this project, which includes photographic images of the letters and transcriptions that are TEI-encoded to make them fully tagged and searchable. Visitors to the site mariaedgeworth.org will be able to search the letters by sender or recipient, subject, locations, date, etc. We will be able to add to the digital collection over time as we receive, transcribe, and code more letters. As the archive of letters on the site grows, it will host digital projects produced by scholars from the text data, including maps, data visualizations, word clouds, etc.
More than 26 archives and institutions have already given us photographs of their letters, including Trinity College Dublin, King’s College Cambridge, Bibliotheque de Geneve, the University of Birmingham, the University of Reading, Princeton University, the University of Virginia, Boston College, Harvard University, Duke University, the National Library of Scotland, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, University College London, Dartmouth, Vassar, Claremont, Yale, the Bodleian, the National Library of Ireland, the British Library, and many others. We’re excited to have the participation of so many institutions in several countries.
We loaded 200 letters onto the crowdsourcing platform Zooniverse where volunteers quickly transcribed them. We are currently piloting the coding phase of the project to build the searchability of our letters database. We look forward to reopening the crowdsourcing platform in the future for additional transcribing.
As an example of what Edgeworth’s letters can reveal, I’ve transcribed one of the letters that Trinity College Dublin photographed for us. I chose this letter at random from the files sent to us. Edgeworth writes in 1840 to Lord Lansdowne, a prominent and long-serving British Whig politician who had been Chancellor of the Exchequer, among other positions; the Lansdowne family of Bowood House, Wiltshire, had long been friends and correspondents of the Edgeworths. In this letter, Edgeworth writes to compliment Lansdowne on the public approbation he bestowed (and which she read of in a newspaper or other publication) on “Father Matthews,” as she calls him. Theobald Mathew, known as “Father Mathew,” was an Irish Catholic priest and a temperance campaigner. He and his Catholic Total Abstinence Society enrolled hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland, England, and eventually the United States, many of them poor laborers, in a pledge to abstain from alcohol. In this letter, Edgeworth calls Mathew’s movement “the greatest and most wonderful enterprize & achievement since the time of The Crusades.” After praising Father Mathew’s sermons and admiring the impact of temperance on the poor, Edgeworth concludes her letter by recommending to Lansdowne that since “coffee is so much in demand among the vast numbers in Ireland who have given up whiskey it would be a great encouragement to morality” to lower duties on coffee, making it more affordable. She mentions that this idea was suggested to her by Captain Beaufort, a friend and Rear Admiral of the Royal Navy and that it might also be beneficial to “the West Indian possessions” and a stimulus to “European labor in those colonies.”
There are some tantalizing threads to untangle in this letter. Lord Lansdowne, though a Protestant, was a champion of Catholic emancipation in Britain. He also supported, though less vigorously, the abolition of slavery. Father Mathew was hosted in the United States after this letter was written by prominent Catholics in the American North, including Archbishop of New York John Hughes; although Mathew had expressed opposition to slavery previously, his anti-abolitionist American hosts discouraged his involvement in abolition discourse in the US and Mathew complied, refusing to condemn slavery. This refusal was in turn condemned by Frederick Douglass, one-time signer of Mathew’s temperance pledge. In this context, Edgeworth’s vague allusion to “European labor” on coffee plantations is especially fascinating. I don’t have an answer yet to exactly what she might mean by this, whether there was an effort to replace the labor of enslaved people with that of free Europeans as abolition loomed and if so whether she was aware of such. What we see in this letter is a nexus among people and movements: politicians, military men, Catholics, Protestants, temperance, and abolition – with Maria Edgeworth at the center of it all. As the Maria Edgeworth Letters Project grows we will follow many such threads and connections.
Dr Jessica Richard (Wake Forest University, North Carolina), joint co-ordinator of the Maria Edgeworth Letters Project.
The Dun Emer, and later Cuala Industries were pioneering female-led studios in the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement. They promoted handmade work, wove beautiful carpets, produced exquisite needlecraft, and printed and bound beautiful books. They served the domestic and business market and they produced liturgical art objects. It was a collaboration of artists and designers using local Irish materials. It is worth quoting at length from the studios’ 1904 prospectus which rhymed with the ideals of the wider A&C Movement,
Everything as far as possible is Irish: the paper, the books, the linen of the embroidery and the wool of the tapestry and carpets. The designs are also of the spirit and tradition of the country. The education of the work girls is also part of the idea – they are thought to paint and their brains and fingers are made more active and understanding…
When Evelyn Gleeson (1855-1944) moved to Ireland to establish the Dún Emer Guild with Lily and Elizabeth Yeats she purchased a house named ‘Runnymede’ in Dundrum, a South Dublin village suburb. The house had been named for Runnymede in England where The Magna Carte was sealed in 1215. Evoking the spirit of Irish Revivalism, the Dundrum house was redesignated Dún Emer by Gleeson, meaning Emer’s fort in Gaelic, after the wife of the legendary Irish hero Cuchulainn. Emer was renowned for her craft and needlework skills. Gleeson oversaw the Guild’s weaving department; Lily (1866-1949) ran the embroidery workshop; and Elizabeth (1868-1940) managed the private printing press.
The recovery and use of Irish legends, the story Cuchulainn in particular, during the Irish Revival in the early twentieth century is well documented. Douglas Hyde and Eoin MacNeill founded the Gaelic League in 1893 to promote the Irish language. Ancient heroic tales were retold by writers such as Standish O’Grady and many of their central characters peopled the poems of W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) such as in “The Death of Cuchulain”, “The Only Jealousy of Emer” and numerous others. Lady Gregory’s translation from the Irish of Cuchulainn of Muirthemne, which W. B. Yeats described in the introduction as ‘the greatest book ever to have come out of Ireland in my time’, was published in 1902.
The Yeats sisters, Elizabeth, and Lily (Susan) depicted above on an advertisement postcard c. 1905 by their sister-in-law Mary Cottenham Yeats. The card shows Elizabeth carrying books and Lily Yeats holding an embroidered garment as they set out to build a female Arts and Crafts enterprise with Evelyn Gleeson at the anticipated dawn of a new Independent Ireland.
Elizabeth ran the hand printing press. With her brother William as editor, the press produced important Irish revivalist literature. Additionally, Elizabeth worked with several Irish artists, key among them her brother Jack, to produce hand-coloured prints, cards, bookplates, and the illustrated series A Broadside. Lily managed the embroidery department. The Yeats sisters separated from Gleeson in 1908 and continued their areas of production nearby in their new venture Cuala Industries. Both were female enterprises and almost exclusively employed and trained young women as assistants in producing artefacts adhering to arts and crafts principles. Elizabeth was a woman of her time, a time of increasing female agency, politically, socially, and in the workplace. A contested and complex history was lived through her Press.