Across the Grain
Starring Nicky Harley
Directed by Joe Laverty
Written by Laura Morgan & Maeve O
Based on the memoirs of Mabel Annesley
1897 - 1989
Bridle traveled widely throughout her life and exhibited her art across Ireland. She exhibited oil paintings and watercolours in the Ulster Unit exhibition: Attic Kitchen; East Bridge, Enniskillen; Carrickbeg Hill, Co. Fermanagh; Coolarkin Co. Fermanagh; Garden in Winter; Enniskillen; and The Drawing Class.
Click here to visit the archive.
1903 - 1999.
Born and died in Co. Down, Yeames studied Art in Paris and then Glasgow. She exhibited three oil paintings in the Ulster Unit exhibition: The White House, Majorca; Autumn Flowers; and Winter Garden.
1881 - 1959
Lady Mabel Marguerite Annesley was a wood-engraver and watercolour painter. Her works have been shown across the globe, and she had a great impact in the Ulster and New Zealand Art scene. Although famous for her woodcuts, in the Ulster Unit exhibition she exhibited three watercolours: Moneyslane, Hilltown and Comerderry.
1909 - 2009
Clements studied sculpture in Belfast School of Art, then in the Royal College of Art in London.
She exhibited throughout Ulster and continued to work and teach until her death. She exhibited five sculptures in the Ulster Unit exhibition: Mask, Jezebel (Lead), Susannah, Sternotyx Diaphana, Robin Gill.
Anne workman Yeames
Born around halfway through the first decade of the 20th century, sister to Margaret Yeames and part of the Workman family of artists and industrialists, Workman Yeames tragically died in her sleep during WWII. The painting on the right is the only known example of her art, currently held in a family collection. Described as a promising young artist, she exhibited two works in the Ulster Unit exhibition: Cushendun and John O' the Rock.
1908 - 1994
McGregor was a sculptor who trained in the Belfast School of Art. She was a member of the Ulster Unit and later a member of the Ulster Society of Women Artists. Contemporary critics praised her work and she sold the most pieces at the Ulster Unit show, however no traces can be found of either the work itself nor reproductions. She exhibited twelve sculptures and one tapestry in the Ulster Unit exhibition: Mask, Audrey, Seraph, Speculation, The Wrestler, Book Ends, Pot, Twilight, Grouse, Brown bowl, Mug, Fog, and Wall Hanging.
The project began while Maeve was teaching a class on John Hewitt, and came across tantalising hints about an Ulster modernist art collective referred to as The Ulster Unit.
This inspired Maeve’s poem Fermanagh Landscape, about the life and work of Kathleen Bridle which was longlisted for Seamus Heaney New Writing Award in 2019 and published in the Community Arts Partnership Poetry in Motion Anthology.
Laura came on board, Maeve applied for Arts Council funding, and they set out to uncover as much as they could about the lives of these fascinating women.
Why was Hewitt instrumental in banding together a group of very different artists working in different media in 1934? Their aesthetic sensibilities were, on the surface, quite different so what did he believe unified them as a collective? What did the artists themselves believe bound them together? Why did they only show together once as a group at Locksley Hall, Belfast in December 1934? Why was the show so commercially unsuccessful with very little work selling at it? What so alarmed the critic of The News Letter that they branded the whole endeavour with the loaded term "hocus pocus"?
Why did some of the artists, notably John Luke, Colin Middleton and George McCann go on to pursue illustrious careers in the art world while some of the others, notably the female artists, appeared to vanish without a trace? Hewitt did not include many of them, even as a brief reference or an index in his 1970s monograph: why?
As we delved into the research, often we would find ourselves treading the footsteps of ghosts without realising it - past the Hewitt's old home on Mount Charles, past Mabel Annesley's former studio on Rosemary Street, down Donegall Place where the Unit's only show had taken place, crossing the Lagan via John Luke Bridge, visiting the county Down coast at Rossglass and the Mourne vistas that feature in so many of the artists' work.
Families and friends were traced and interviews were carried out which revealed the quiet, inspiring and intimate details of the private lives and dreams of “our” artists. These dreams and details inspired our monologues, as we felt that the artists each deserved their own space to tell us our story.
We had the luck of Laura’s mother’s best friend from school, Emma Hood, being the great, great granddaughter of Mabel Annesly. She was delighted to help and generously sent us a box filled with a treasure trove of artifacts: Mabel's woodcuts, prints, her scrapbook, and her memoirs - even a letter from John Hewitt himself. Mabel’s memoir, As the Sight is Bent, with its poetical musings, lent itself perfectly for adaptation.
When Joe Laverty read Mabel’s monologue and saw these artifacts, he saw the potential for a film - and voila, our short film, Across the Grain, was born! We were lucky enough to film it on location - experiencing the ghostly magic of hearing Mabel’s words, in her actual bedroom, staring at the view which was the inspiration for much of her art.
We have so many people to thank for helping us get to this point, and you can find the full list of our acknowledgements below.
In this project we hope to try and answer some of these questions, to the best of our ability. We hope, also, to shed some light on the lives, work and legacy of the women of the Ulster Unit - an avowedly modernist collective in the pragmatic traditionalist hinterlands of the north, members of a unit who would not stay united, artists on canvas, in clay, in stone and in life.
Maeve O’Lynn and Laura Morgan are a writing and production duo.
We have so many people to thank. This website was build on the kindness of strangers, friends and family.
Special thanks to: Lady Hood; Andrew Forson at Castlewellan Castle; Anne O'Leary, Chair of Irish Association of Art Historians; Dr Riann Coulter; F.E. McWilliam Gallery; Dr Jack Quin; Robin Masefield, CBE; Jane Badcock; Margaret McCord; Lesley Sharp, Hon sec, Ulster Society of Women Artists; Patricia Burgess, Past President of the Ulster Society of Women Artists; Leanne Briggs and Heather McGuicken; North Down Museum; Lorraine Small, Old Mill House; Dictionary of Ulster Biography; Dr. Emma McVeigh; PRONI (Kelly); Arts Council NI; Carolyn Mullholland HRHA, HRUA; Gail Kelly; Fionnuala McGowan; film crew: Stevie Lennox, Clara Scullion, Thomas O'Loan; Danny Morrison and Tom Hartley.