Friday, June 7, 2019

Irish Witchcraft and Demonology - The Bramble Hill Press Edition

Dame Alice Kyteler by Eleanor Quinn

An Interview with artist Eleanor Quinn...

I recently came across this print of Alice Kyteler on Instagram, and was really taken by it. It's a stunning image, and I love line work. Alice's demon was (allegedly!) a dog, but the artist chose to use a cat, which I think works beautifully. I was intrigued to discover that the print is part of a series of illustrations based on John Seymour's Irish Witchcraft and Demonology. I wore the pages of that particular book thin when researching Her Kind and Alice Kyteler's sorcery trial. My beaten copy came from The Book Shop in Carndonagh, County Donegal... its an old book, first published in 1913 and out of print. It is full of  very curious tales of witchcraft, demons and the supernatural. The artist of the print is Eleanor Quinn of Bramble Hill Press, and as it turns out, has reprinted a beautiful new illustrated edition of  Seymour's uncanny book . I had to find out more  ...

my old copy

Welcome to the blog Eleanor - can you tell us about your publishing house?
Well, this book is the first venture in a new bigger project that my husband, Patrick, and I have just begun - a small publishing house called Bramble Hill Press, where we will be making new editions of older books that are either out of print entirely or have fallen off the radar. Patrick works on updating the format and layout of the book and making a kindle edition, and I get to work making illustrations for them. We've been busy over the past few years finding all the cool books that we think people should still be reading, and Irish Witchcraft and Demonology was my personal favorite, so was a clear starting point.

It's a great choice! What did you think of Irish Witchcraft and Demonology when you first read it?
I was enthralled! I kept reading bits aloud in amazement to my family - they had to tell me to pipe down and give it a rest. I couldn't believe that I hadn't heard of these stories before, especially the Cork case of Florence Newton, I've lived here for 25 years and not come across her. My secondary feelings and thoughts were much more reflective - How many of these women were actually witches? Probably very few. How easy it must have been to deduce that if a woman was old and ugly she must be evil, and how easily they believed the accusations of the young 'victims'! How much of this could now be explained by medical knowledge? Could some of it actually be true? I found myself hoping that a lot of them were in fact witches so at least they didn't suffer all the gruesomeness of a trial in complete innocence.

I had the same reaction while researching the sorcery trial of Alice Kytler, at first its all quite sensational and fascinating - but then there's that 'hold on a minute, these were real women' realization, and all that comes with that. There are quite an array of familiars, charms, ghosts and witches in this strange book -  was it hard to choose which elements to illustrate?

Mary Butters by Eleanor Quinn
Very. Unlike other projects where you are given a tidy brief to work from, how to go about this was entirely up to me. I felt sure that I didn't want to make a comedy of the stories, and sure that I didn't want to sensationalize them by going full on fairytale witchy or Gothic demonic on it. I was most interested in the people, because they were real people, who really went though this, so I settled on a portrait of each main character, trying to depict them with a bit of respect, and some ambiguity on whether they were actually witches or not.

There's a dignity to that creative approach, and it comes across in the finished work. I think thats what drew me so strongly to your print of Alice. Of all the stories in the book - what was your favorite to work on? 

My favourite piece was the portrait of Mary Butters, I think it was the most fun because it's such a dramatic story. Mary was a plant-witch, or butter-witch, from Co. Antrim at the start of the 1800s. She was hired by a local family to lift a cattle-curse from their livestock but ended up killing three of the family members in the process by asphyxiating them with the fumes of the potion she was brewing. I've drawn her leaning over her pot of noxious smoke, which was gorgeous to draw with all the swirling clouds. This story is also a favourite of mine because Mary was acquitted and carried on practicing her craft, a rare good outcome in the annals of witch-history! Though hopefully she didn't try that particular method again.

Let's hope not! I love your illustrative style. Can you tell us a little about your aesthetic as an artist?
Sure, I owe a lot of my style to my two main loves from art college, line drawing and copper etching. I had the most wonderful drawing teacher, Megan Eustace, who taught me to love line work, which followed nicely into working etching onto copper plates. Etching is such a beautiful traditional process, and has been used for some of my all time favorite illustrations from the Golden Age. 
I'm just working with pen on paper at the moment, but the style of my work very much owes to printmaking. The content of my work has always leant towards the magical, dreamy side of things, so projects like this are made for me. We've just begun working on Sharpe's The History of Witchcraft in Scotland - much more grim reading but some fantastic stories there too, I'm already excited about the illustrations that could come from them.

So more witchcraft - but a much darker project I imagine. Best of luck with Bramble Hill Press, and thanks for the interview Eleanor!

The Bramble Hill edition of John Seymour's Irish Witchcraft and Demonology is now available on Amazon  
& here's a link to Bramble Hill Press Etsy Shop where prints are available

The Bramble Hill Press Illustrated Edition

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