Cuala Press narrating conflict.

Billy Shortall.

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.

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Eileen C. Booth, Cuala Press artist.

Billy Shortall.

In 1927 an English newspaper referred to the “Cuala group of artists”, these were artists mainly women who provided designs for Cuala Industries, primarily for prints published by the Press. 1 Of the nearly forty artists in this group over two-thirds were female. A number of these artists have faded from Irish art historiography and the visual history of Cuala Press is often only discussed in terms of the Yeats family members, Elizabeth the Press’s founder, her sister and Cuala embroideress Lily, artist brother Jack who provided designs, and William the Press’s literary editor.

One of the most prolific designers for Cuala during the 1930s was Eileen Constance Booth (nee Peet) (1906-2000) who created more than twenty illustrations for reproduction on cards and for individual prints. Born into a Quaker family in Dalkey, Co. Dublin in 1906 she studied at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, and for a short period at the renowned Slade School of Art in Britain’s capital, and most interestingly from a Cuala Press point of view as a printmaker specifically in photo-engraving, the method of reproduction used by the Press for its prints. The Cuala Press Business archive holds Booth’s student card associated with the “London County Council School of Photo-Engraving & Lithography” for 1931/2 (TCD MS 11535/9/11/4). The card records that she won first prize for a landscape design in a student exhibition. Traditional Irish rural scenes would become a mainstay in her work and was her preferred subject matter for the Press. It is likely the Eileen first came to Cuala’s attention when she won first prize at the 1926 National Art Competition in ‘Illustration in colour’.

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Transcontinental Threads

Adam MacKlin and Billy Shortall.

Lily (1866-1949) and Elizabeth Yeats (1868-1940), pictured above, originally moved to Dublin from London to join Evelyn Gleeson (1855-1944) in her newly established arts and crafts enterprise, Dun Emer Industries in 1902, where the printing of high-quality books and prints was overseen by Elizabeth and embroidery by Lily. The enterprise was named after the Irish mythological figure, Emer, who was renowned for her artistic and needlework skills, and Cúchulainn’s wife. However, after an acrimonious split with Gleeson, the sisters established Cuala Industries in 1908 taking their own areas of production with them. The ideology of both organisations was espoused in the original Dun Emer prospectus, which stated its desire to “make beautiful things” using honest and native materials in “the spirit and tradition of the country”. Both were female enterprises and almost exclusively employed and trained young women as assistants in arts and crafts

The Press, the dominant part of Cuala’s business, published handcrafted books by leading members of the Irish literary revival including Nobel prize-winning sibling William (1865- 1939), and prints designed by Irish artists, chief among them another sibling Jack Yeats (1871-1957). Lily’s embroidery department was also notable, but its output was smaller and its legacy harder to track as many of the domestic embroidered items, such as, clothing, tablecloths and bedspreads are no longer extant. Framed embroidered art works such as those in the National Gallery of Ireland and in private collections indicate the artistry and technical quality of the embroidered work of Lily and her assistants. Before moving to Dublin, Lily had established herself as a skilled artistic embroiderer working for six years in the late 1800s with May Morris, daughter of William Morris, in their world-renowned Arts and Crafts scheme.

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The Cuala Press Business Archives

Susan and Elizabeth at an exhibition in August 1909.

In our first project blog back in December we mentioned that the Cuala Press project includes not only a fine array of fine-art prints but also includes the Cuala Press Business Archives (TCD MS 11535). The Cuala Press Business Archives were donated by Anne and Michael Yeats in 1986: subsequent additions were added to the existing catalogue in 2011 and 2015. These later additions include material donated by Gráinne Yeats after the death of Anne Yeats, material donated by Helen Conrad O’Briain in March 2014 in memory of Miss Mary Alice Bailey (1925-2013), and material donated by Jane Williams, daughter of Eileen Peet, in 2002. The Business Archives are extremely important as they are an example of a female-led industry in Ireland in the 20th century. Cuala Industries was established in 1908 when Elizabeth and Susan Yeats split from Evelyn Gleeson and the Dun Emer press. One of the reasons why the Cuala Press is so iconic is that it was the only private press in Ireland to be staffed and run by women.  

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Women of the Cuala – Maire ‘Molly’ Gill

On This Day in 1891, Maire ‘Mollie’ Gill was born and to mark Women’s History Month 2021, we have another blog post in our Women of the Cuala series. Maire ‘Mollie’ Gill (1891-1977) was born in Murphystown Co. Dublin to James and Jane Gill on the 24th of March 1891. Maire’s older sister Jane worked at Dun Emer Industries and in 1908, when Jane left to get married, seventeen-year-old Maire took her place, working under Elizabeth C. Yeats (1868-1940) in the newly formed Cuala Press. Gill was now at the center of the Cultural Revival, meeting W.B. Yeats and Maud Gonne (1866-1953). Gill became a member of Inghinidhe na hÉireann, the women’s organization founded by Maud Gonne. Through her involvement with Inghinidhe na hÉireann, Gill became increasingly politicized and was one of the first members of Cumann na mBan. She was also on the executive committee of the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Dependent Fund and was later awarded a medal for her part in the War of Independence. 

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