Craig Fansler, Wake Forest University 2014-12-02 11:15:54
Every once in a while you encounter a collection of materials that is incredibly unique. It’s the type of collection that screams to be used in every conceivable way. For me, the Z. Smith Reynolds (ZSR) Library at Wake Forest University holds one of those unusual finds: the Dolmen Press Collection. The collection contains the intellectual, written, and printing output of Liam Miller’s Dolmen Press, which operated in or near Dublin, Ireland, from 1951 to 1987. Each gray archival box contains folders of material that continue to inspire—from letters and photos to art and images, and even printing plates. About the Collection Liam Miller (1924–1987) was trained in architecture, but followed his passion with his wife, Josephine, to become a book designer and printer.1 Miller soon became a cultivator of Irish poets, writers, and artists. For their first few books, they printed and bound the books using a small Adana printing press on their kitchen table. Although Miller called their first book, Traveling Tinkers by Sigerson Clifford, “an extremely amateur piece of book production and both composition and presswork,” it sold out immediately after it was published in 1951.2 Irish artists and poets who contributed to the Dolmen Press flourished as they created works of poetry, books, and broadsides. These individuals make up a who’s who of Irish poets and artists during the 1950s and ’60s; the artists include Tate Adams, Leslie MacWeeney, Elizabeth Rivers, Pauline Bewick, Norah McGuiness, Juanita Casey, and Ruth Brandt. The poets include Thomas Kinsella, Arland Ussher, Padraic Colum, and John Montague. One of Miller’s most notable undertakings was the translation and printing of the Irish epic tale The Tain, translated by Kinsella. The Dolmen version of The Tain was illustrated with paintings by Louis Le Brocquy in 1969. Putting the Collection to Use The Dolmen Press Collection was processed in 2004 and 2005. As a library school student, I assisted Jennifer Roper in processing the printing blocks in this collection. Because there was no identification on the blocks and they were Not organized, I worked to identify the artist and the Dolmen publication each block was used for. As a result, I developed a real affection for the artists and poets published by Dolmen Press. The collection has a handmade feel and lots of original art; consequently, it feels very authentic to me. Fortunately, many of the printing plates used by the Dolmen Press are ones used on a traditional letterpress and are still printable. ZSR Library just so happens to have a letterpress, thanks to a recent donation. This means that works that were possibly only printed one time are being brought to life again as we are able to print linoleum cuts, wood engravings, and metal plates created by the Dolmen artists. We have used some of these prints in library promotional materials and for other uses. Information Literacy Instruction The Dolmen Press Collection has been used in particular to highlight the importance of primary source materials. Students in an information literacy class, for example, used the Dolmen Press books and printing plates to create a library exhibit based off their research and analysis on the Dolmen Press artists. On the final class day, each group unveiled their exhibits and gave a short presentation on the artist they researched. Academic Research ZSR Library held a celebration— which featured paper presentations3—to announce the release of the Dolmen Press Collection. Since that time, the collection has been used by a number of researchers. Thomas D. Redshaw, director of Irish Studies at University of St. Thomas and editor of New Hibernia Review, has used the Dolmen Press Collection for a number of articles. Fiona Brennan received a Wake Forest University Provosts’ Grant to visit Wake Forest and use the collection in research for her recent biography George Fitzmaurice: ‘Wild in His Own Way’ Biography of an Abbey Playwright. Speaking to a group at ZSR Library following her research, Brennan stated she found key information on Fitzmaurice in the Dolmen Collection that she previously only knew of anecdotally. Miller’s work with the Dolmen Press and his effort to recruit Irish writers and artists led to a modern continuation of the arts and crafts movement of the nineteenth century in Ireland. Miller died in 1987, and the Dolmen Press did not survive. But it left a lasting legacy by encouraging a new generation of Irish publishers to continue to offer professional primary publication in Ireland.4 In addition to the profound effect the Dolmen Press has had on Ireland, it has also contributed profoundly to the collection strength of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library and the researchers who use it. Notes 1 Brian Lalor, Ink-Stained Hands : Graphic Studio Dublin and the Origins of Fine Art Printmaking in Ireland (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2011), 51. 2 Liam Miller and Dolmen Press, Dolmen XXV: An Illustrated Bibliography of the Dolmen Press, 1951– 1976 (Dublin: Dolmen Editions, 1976), 13. 3 Barrett, Pam, “Wake Forest Celebrates Official Introduction of Renowned Dolmen Press Archive,” News Releases: Wake Forest University, February 26, 2006, http://www.wfu.edu /wfunews/2006/022406d.html. 4 Harmon, The Dolmen Press, 137.
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