Hart, Alice Marion (c. 1850-1931)

Exhibition and sale of work of the Donegal Industrial Fund, Spencer House, St James's Place, wood engraving for The Graphic, 4th June 1887. Exhibition and sale of work of the Donegal Industrial Fund, Spencer House, St James's Place, wood engraving for The Graphic, 4th June 1887.

Alice Marion Hart (c. 1850-1931; née Rowland) was born in London, one of eight children. Her father was Alexander Rowland, a wealthy businessman, and her sister was Henrietta Barnett, a well-known nineteenth century social reformer and educationalist. In 1872 Alice Rowland married Ernest A. Hart (1835-1898), a surgeon and editor of the British Medical Journal. Alice Rowland was his second wife.

Alice Hart studied medicine in London and Paris, and this scientific training was to have an influence on her later work, especially with natural dyes. In 1883 Alice and Ernest visited Donegal to write an official report on health conditions in this part of Ireland, following a series of bad harvests called the Donegal Famine (1879-1883). According to Alice Hart’s accounts, they were appalled by what they found, and so they immediately set up the Donegal Famine Fund.

In addition, as a part (and quicker) solution to the local economic problems, Alice Hart created in December 1883 the Donegal Industrial Fund, in order to revive cottage industries, such as embroidery and weaving. At this time she was particularly involved in the Celtic Revival and in the promotion of ‘Celtic’ art and textiles, including embroideries. Alice Hart opened a shop in New Cavendish Street, London, to sell Donegal Industrial Fund products (they had a particular success, for example, with woven tweeds from Donegal).

At the same time she was experimenting with natural dyes, using plants and pigments from the Donegal region. She also instigated a scheme whereby Irish women were encouraged to teach and produce embroidery, including what she called Kells embroidery. The designs used for these embroideries were strongly influenced by the patterns created and developed as part of the Celtic Revival. The designs used for Kells embroidery, for instance, came from early Irish manuscripts. This embroidery was worked on Irish linen, with dyed and polished linen threads, in order to strengthen the Irish artistic link and to help local producers of flax and linen goods.

In 1885 Kells embroidery won the gold medal at the Inventions Exhibition in London. In 1886 the Donegal Industrial Fund moved to larger premises within the town of Donegal, which became known as Donegal House. In addition to embroidery and weaving, woodcarving and carpentry were added to the crafts taught at the House. Work from Donegal House was exhibited in many cities, including Chicago, Dublin, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Paris. Donegal Industrial Fund ceased to operate following the retirement of the Harts in 1896.

Digital sources:

For a critical study about the Donegal Industrial fund, see: HELLAND, Janice (2004). 'Working bodies, Celtic textiles and the Donegal Industrial Fund 1883-1890,' Textile, 2:2, pp. 134-155.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 1st July 2016).


Last modified on Wednesday, 03 May 2017 16:47