The Story of an International Print Exchange


It was back in July 2019 that one of our Cowprint Artists’ Group members suggested that we might want to look for a new group printmaking project creating new works to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower in August 2020.  This seemed a fitting theme for a group of printmakers based at Red Hot Press, a printmaking workshop facility in Southampton, not far from the shore where the Mayflower originally set sail.

The original aim was to create a set of individual prints to represent different aspects of the Mayflower’s historic journey to the New World and to showcase a wide variety of printmaking and technical skills in the process.  As the 400th anniversary would be in 2020 it was decided that a concertina book with pages measuring 20 x 20 cm featuring a print from each of the 20 artists would be a great way to display all the prints together. As the project got underway, now with 22 artists, we soon came to realise it had far more potential and deserved to reach a wider audience.

The initial ambition for the project grew and, before we knew it, we had secured the interest of another print studio in the USA and the fit couldn’t have been more prefect.  Inky Hands Print Studio and Gallery is located in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which marks the end point for the Mayflower’s epic journey.

Our little project had grown into a full-blown international print exchange, with Inky Hands agreeing to produce a book of prints as well.  It seemed incredibly fitting that our book would make its way from Southampton, the initial embarkation point for the Mayflower, all the way across the Atlantic to Plymouth, where the Pilgrim Fathers finally settled.

Both studios also decided that the original set of prints should be available for sale as framed pieces and that we should create an exhibition of all the work on both sides of the Atlantic.  All seemed to be going well.  We were lucky enough to secure sponsorship from South Coast Port Services to help with exhibition costs and we found a beautiful gallery space generously offered by God’s House Tower.  Everything was planned, from exhibition layout to coordinating framing with Paul at Art Effects and getting together to create the books, but then the dreaded COVID struck and we all went into lockdown.

With access to the printing facilities at Red Hot Press forbidden we pressed on with meetings over Zoom and the members, who were taking part, found alternative ways to complete their prints at home. Somehow, we managed to coordinate it all and when lockdown ended we sent our works for framing and started constructing the three books whilst still following all the necessary COVID restrictions. 

Our efforts were rewarded with the project being awarded the ‘Spirit of the Mayflower’ by Southampton City Council, a piece of editorial in Pressing Matters magazine in July 2020, and seeing our book and prints make their way to Inky Hands in Plymouth.

We are delighted that Kat Libretto, at Inky Hands, has been able to set up the US exhibition, with both their book and ours on display along with the prints of 42 printmakers from the Cowprint Artists’ Group and Inky Hands’ print members.  Due to reduced visitor numbers, Kat aims to repeat the exhibition again sometime next year.

What a journey we have travelled with this project!  After the difficulties of this very strange year and ironically finding ourselves isolated and confined for large parts of it, we all have a much greater appreciation for the hardships endured by the occupants of the Mayflower as they made their 10-week gruelling trip across the Atlantic cooped up in a sailing ship.

We are also delighted that, despite the challenges facing God’s House Tower over the last nine months, some of our prints can now be viewed and bought from God’s House Tower’s online shop. We remain absolutely determined that in 2021 we will finally be able to open our exhibition ‘Navigating a New World’ to the public.

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