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.
As already discussed in this blog series, Dun Emer Press (1902-1908) and Cuala Press (1908-1946) books were renowned for both their content, contemporary literature, and their arts and crafts aesthetic. The Press differentiated itself from other private letterpress publishers by printing new material by important writers of the Irish literary revival. Most British private presses, to minimise costs and avoid paying fees to living writers, invariably issued out of copyright classic texts. From the start, Cuala’s production values were praised for their elementary design and execution, ‘a fine clearness is the prime trait in the hand-printed volumes of Miss Elizabeth Yeats’, they used an eighteenth century (c. 1725) Caslon ‘fashioned … Old-Face type, and it is with this that Miss Yeats works exclusively.’ In setting up her Press, Elizabeth Yeats was advised by printer, private press publisher, and powerhouse of the English Arts and Crafts Private Press Movement, Emery Walker. Due to Walker’s co-directorship of the Doves Press and his role as an advisor to William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, the Dun Emer and Cuala Press may be viewed as a key development within this revival of bespoke publishing.
The Cuala Press operated from different premises during its existence. Initially, under the Dun Emer Press imprint, it was part of Dun Emer enterprises in Dundrum from 1902 until 1908. Elizabeth and Lily Yeats split from Dun Emer and Evelyn Gleeson, in 1908 and moved their printing and embroidery operations to ‘a four roomed cottage’ on Lower Churchtown Road in July of that year. It was housed in William and Georges Yeats home on 82 Merrion Square from August 1923 until February 1925. Cuala then moved to Baggot Street and sub-rented upstairs rooms from the building’s main tenants, Norman Allen Ltd. They remained at Baggot Street until January 1942, by which time W. B. Yeats (the Press’s editor) and Elizabeth were both dead. After 1942 the Press, now managed by George (W.B.’s widow), moved to her house on Palmerstown Road. The thirty-two years in Churchtown and Baggot Street were the most productive. Photographs with decorative and historical detail exist from all locations and are rich sources about Cuala Press life, industry, output, location, and much more.
This blog looks at one photograph taken in the Cuala Press Baggot Street premises in 1932, and the avenues of research that image invites and the questions it asks.
Elizabeth Corbet Yeats’s private press was an important cultural and social enterprise, it operated under the Dun Emer imprint from 1903-1908 and thereafter as The Cuala. The last book was published five years after ECY’s death in 1946. The Press frequently exhibited their publications at home and abroad in arts and crafts exhibitions and these positioned their output among other members of the international private press and the wider Arts and Crafts movement.
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…