March is the month of Saint Patrick’s Day and it is also Women’s History Month. To celebrate both of these events, this post discusses the Burns Library’s Eva McKee Collection. Part of the Burns Irish collections, the McKee Collection contains several beautiful examples of McKee’s work, including gorgeously illustrated cards, a silver pin with enamel beading and a copper plate with a Celtic interlace design. Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1890, Eva McKee was among the artists who championed the Celtic revival in Irish arts and crafts that emerged in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Selections from the McKee Collection were exhibited in the O’Neill Library in 2013, but the exhibit is over so you may visit the Burns Reading Room to learn more about this collection or read the finding aid.
While working with the Irish Decorative Arts Association, McKee studied at the School of Art in Belfast. With fellow artisan and business partner, Eveline McCloy, she worked to invigorate the association. McKee and McCloy are credited with making Belfast the foremost center of craftwork in the Celtic or Irish style in the 1920’s.
Working with a variety of media, McKee and McCloy produced woodwork, ceramics, cloth embroidery, jewelry, leatherwork, repoussé metalwork, and painted cards. McKee and McCloy worked almost exclusively with Irish themes including figures of Celtic mythology, traditional Irish sayings, Celtic designs, and the Irish language. Original pencil drawings by McKee show designs for jewelry, such as a blister pearl necklace, moonstone rings, and in some cases, designs with multiple options for stones.
Also included in the collection at Burns is a set of playing cards that is illustrative of the art of the period that draws from early Celtic designs, such as those found in illuminated manuscripts. The picture cards, reflect the Heroic Age in Celtic mythological literature, including kings and queens that represent royal figures from the various tales of that era.
Eva McKee, who sometimes signed her work Aoife McAoda, not only expressed an appreciation for the literary and artistic legacy of her country through the creation of beautiful works of art, she also ran a successful business. The archive of her work held at the Burns Library demonstrates her ability to maintain a creative identity and earn an independent living. Eva McKee continues to be an inspiration for people today.
The Eva McKee Collection is available to researchers in the Burns Library Reading Room. For more information about the John J. Burns Library’s collections, take a look at the Burns Library Research Guide or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-552-4861.
Kathleen Williams, Senior Reference Librarian and Irish Studies Bibliographer, Boston College Libraries