Cranwill, Maria (‘Mia’) (1880–1972), design and metal artist, was born 1 March 1880 at 3 Charlotte Place, Drumcondra, Dublin, daughter of Arthur Cranwill, analytical chemist, and Frances Cranwill (née Holland). Her father, an enthusiastic Parnellite, was treasurer of the Irish Protestant Home Rule Association. Poor health as a child meant she received a relatively scrappy education at home and in private schools. At the age of 15 she moved with her family to Manchester, where she began attending night classes in art before receiving a scholarship to attend the Manchester School of Art. Having qualified as a teacher, she taught for over eight years in a local school until poor health and growing dissatisfaction with her job led her to resign (1915), after which she and a colleague ran a poultry and fruit farm in Emsworth, near Portsmouth, Hampshire. Her friend's ill health forced them to abandon the project after eighteen months.
Throughout her years in England Cranwill maintained her interest in Ireland. Encouraged by her father's friend Charles Hubert Oldham (qv) to study Irish history and mythology during her return visits to Dublin, she was inspired by contact with the writings of George Coffey (qv) on early Irish artwork to begin experimenting in metal and enamel work with a specifically Celtic style. In this she was assisted by Frederick Newland Smith of the Manchester School of Art. Having decided to return permanently to Ireland, she settled in Dublin (May 1917), initially setting up her studio on Suffolk St., where she produced individual pieces of jewellery by special order, mainly in gold and silver and set with semi-precious stones and enamels. These had a definite Celtic inspiration and often drew on symbolism from mythology or contemporary Irish poetry. A member of the theosophical circle of George Russell (qv), she received an early commission from the Gaelic Leaguer Charlotte Dease to design a ring inspired by her horoscope. However, her main income at this time came from regular orders from the Manchester firm of Mundie's. When these dried up after the outbreak of the war of independence (during which she hid republican guns in her workroom) she briefly considered closing the studio. However, a timely commission from Count John McCormack (qv) to make a pectoral cross for Archbishop Carbery of Baltimore, USA, encouraged her to persist with her work. This decision paid off as she rapidly established herself in Dublin art circles. A member of the Guild of Irish Artworkers from 1921, she exhibited with the RDS, the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland (1917, 1921), and the Royal Miniature Society (1920). Her work was also included in a selection of Irish applied art, exhibited at the Galerie Barbazanges, Paris (January 1922), and an exhibition of jewellery by local craftworkers at the Manchester City Art Gallery (July 1923).
Throughout the 1920s she was engaged in producing a monstrance, tabernacle, sanctuary lamp, and frames for altar cards for St Patrick's catholic church, San Francisco, USA. The monstrance, which she executed with the help of Newland Smith, was exhibited in the National Museum of Ireland (July 1927) before being shipped to San Francisco. Another significant commission came from Alice Stopford Green (qv) to produce a metal casket to house a scroll with the signatures of the Free State senators. The casket (gold, silver, and enamel on a copper foundation) received universal praise on its completion (1924), when it was exhibited in the National Museum and later at the Manchester Art Federation. In reviewing the piece F. Newland Smith spoke of Cranwill as a ‘designer and craftswoman who understands the national Irish style and can interpret it, create anew within it, and add to the old and delightful forms a personality and expression quite new’ (Newland Smith, 240).
Other works by Cranwill include an episcopal ring for John Dignan (qv) on his consecretation as bishop of Clonfert (1924), a tabernacle door for St Michael's church, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway (1926), and a hymnal board for Holy Trinity church, Killiney, Co. Dublin (1932). She worked with Sir Neville Wilkinson (1869–1940) on the decoration of his ‘Titania's palace’, producing miniature reproductions of the Cross of Cong and Ardagh chalice ‘with all its interlacing work and enamels faithfully represented’ (Wilkinson, 19). Engaged to design a presentation cup for the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland (1933), which she illustrated with scenes from Irish history, she made rings for celebrities such as Mícheál MacLiammóir (qv), Compton Mackenzie, and the wife of George Bernard Shaw (qv). Shaw, who described her as ‘the Irish Benvenuto Cellini’ (Snoddy, 88), refers in an article in the Irish Statesman (17 Nov. 1928) to her experiencing problems with the vested interests in the Irish gold and silver trade over the absence of hallmarks on her work. She also designed standards for the Free State army, executed by Cuala Industries, and first borne on St Patrick's day 1937. Increasingly delicate health forced her to give up metalwork, after which she took up weaving and produced illustrations for the Dolmen Press's publications of Ewart Milne's poem Galion (1953) and a translation by Thomas Kinsella, The sons of Usnech (1954).
While in her seventies she still made her own clothes and cobbled her shoes. Having left her Killiney home and workshop, she spent the last ten years of her life in the Alexandra Guild House, Leinster Road West, Dublin, where she died 20 October 1972. Cranwill is said to have believed she was the reincarnation of a Mayan princess. Her portrait was painted by Eva Douglas.