Arts and Culture

Bringing back a piece of Ireland



A donation to the Madison Art Collection from a former JMU professor inspired Melanie Brimhall to follow in her footsteps.

Two years ago Dr. Martha Caldwell, professor emerita of art and art history, donated her entire collection of prints, books and artifacts, which included the work of Jack Butler Yeats.

“When I saw Jack’s prints for the first time I immediately fell in love with his work and the Ireland countryside,” said Brimhall, associate director of the Madison Art Collection.

Yeats, the brother of famed poet William Butler Yeats, first established himself as a magazine illustrator and later as a painter. He became known as "The Painter of Ireland" for his sympathetic treatment of the Irish common man. “He was a quiet man who believed strongly in an independent Ireland,” Brimhall said. “Yeats asserts his political views through his work.”

Fascinated by his work, Brimhall traveled to Ireland and visited the National Gallery of Art in Dublin where many of his paintings and sketchpads are on display. She was able to acquire some of Yeats’ books and three woodblock prints.

After two years of research and planning, Brimhall curated the Jack B. Yeats exhibit. It is on display until Feb. 27 at the Lisanby Museum in the Festival Conference and Student Center. The exhibit brings together eight woodblock prints donated by Caldwell and three woodblock prints on loan from Brimhall that she plans donate to the Madison Art Collection. 

“When I saw Jack’s prints for the first time I immediately fell in love with his work and the Ireland countryside,” -- Melanie Brimhall, associate director of the Madison Art Collection

Woodblock printing is a technique used to print text, images or patterns onto paper or silk. “Using this medium, Jack Yeats brings to life Ireland in the flourishing lines and hand-coloring of his prints,” she said. 

The exhibit is part of a larger series of events, The Yeats Family: Life in Ireland,” a collaboration among the Madison Art Collection, English department and the Office of International Programs. The series also includes a photo exhibit in Prism Gallery, with contributions from students and faculty in the 2014 Ireland and Northern Ireland study-abroad program.

Additionally, the series welcomes guest lecturer Dr. Luke Gibbons, professor at National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Gibbons, a Yeats scholar, will speak on Feb. 13 at 4:30 p.m. in Conference Room 8 of the Festival Conference and Student Center to discuss political expressionism in art.

By the luck of the Irish, Dr. Sian White, JMU assistant professor of English, studied under Gibbons while completing her dissertation and was able to arrange his visit.

“It really brings everything full circle to be able to host him here as a scholar,” White said. “He was a major part of the beginning of my career. It means a lot both personally and professionally.” 


Jordan Bogner (’15) 

Feb. 11, 2015 

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Published: Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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