Irish Arts & Crafts On Display in Boston

Through June 5th, the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College will be home to The Arts and Crafts Movement: Making It Irish, an exclusive exhibition of more than 150 ecclesiastical and domestic objects.

The exhibition offers the first comprehensive examination of the Irish Arts and Crafts movement as it was experienced in the context of cultural nationalism and major political transformation, according to organizers. It explores that movement within the contexts of nationalism, feminism, Celtic Revivalism, and modernism. Like the more familiar Irish Literary Revival of the same era, Ireland’s Arts and Crafts practice accompanied and shaped the country’s transformation from colony to independent nation, and in the North, to continuing ties with the United Kingdom.

As its centerpiece, The Arts and Craft Movement: Making It Irish introduces stunning early medieval-influenced metalwork, embroidered textiles and vestments, altar cards, and leatherwork from the Honan Chapel, Cork. The collection of this ideologically charged masterpiece of Arts and Crafts achievement, consecrated in 1916, has never before traveled beyond Cork, Ireland.

“The McMullen is pleased to present the first comprehensive exhibition devoted to the Arts and Crafts movement as it was uniquely conceived in Ireland,” said McMullen Museum director and professor of art history Nancy Netzer. “The exhibition and accompanying catalogue with essays by scholars on both sides of the Atlantic reveals that, like the writers of the Irish Literary Revival, artists of the Irish Arts and Crafts movement—many of whom were women—viewed their work as contributing to a vision of a modern, independent Ireland in the South.”

“During the centenary year of commemoration of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising that led to independence in the South, the exhibition demonstrates how early twentieth-century Irish artists and craftworkers reshaped an original English movement to meet their own country’s social and political needs,” said co-curator Kreilkamp. “More than 150 artifacts—the cultural work of a revolutionary era—draw on the motifs of a colonized country’s pre-conquest medieval ‘golden age’ past to make claims for Ireland’s future. Many dazzling works from the masterpiece of Irish Arts and Crafts achievement, the 1916 Honan Chapel in Cork City, are displayed for the first time outside of Ireland. Also featured are glass panels by Irish artists who created a celebrated modernist revival of stained glass in the early twentieth century.”

The Arts and Crafts movement championed traditional craftsmanship and high standards of design and artistry in the applied arts. The exhibition features objects that embody both Celtic Revivalist and pre-modernist visual motifs, demonstrating how early twentieth-century artisans looked back to their country’s past in order to move forward.

In addition to the display of treasures from the Honan Chapel, it gathers stained glass panels by artists Wilhelmina Geddes and Harry Clarke that evoke a Celtic and early Christian past, but embody the innovative modernism characterizing the Literary Revival. Other objects include handcrafted furniture and metalwork, paintings and drawings, carpets and wall hangings, ceramics, and jewelry replicating or responding to early medieval artifacts like the Book of Kells. The works on display illustrate how a widespread popular dissemination of Revivalist motifs and the philanthropic promotion of handicraft industries initiated an Arts and Crafts movement in Ireland.

For more information on this exhibition, please visit

Top Photo: Eva McKee (1890-1955), Panel (box lid) with peacocks, flowers, and Celtic interlace, c. 1920–25. Private collection.

Bottom Photo: Cassandra Annie Walker (1875–1936, designer), Della Robbia Pottery (maker), Two-handled vase, 1904. National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Images courtesy of The McMullen Museum of Art.