Transatlantic Mayflower 400 touring exhibition ‘Journey’ finally arrives in Plymouth’s Theatre Royal

An exhibition of artists’ work on the theme of ‘Journey’, created by printmakers on both sides of the Atlantic to commemorate Mayflower 400 and which should have taken place last year, finally opened at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth this week. 

The collaboration between two groups of artists, the UK based Tamar Valley Printmakers, run by Mary Gillett and their American counterparts, Printmakers of Cape Cod, started in 2016 and was a way to commemorate Mayflower 400 and to celebrate and establish links between artists 3000 miles apart who all create work using the techniques of printmaking. The 43 artists were given a single word – Journey – and they went on to produce work that interprets that word in 43 different ways.  

The pictures are rich in vitality and variety and they speak to everyone. They range from the personal to the universal and deal with themes such as migration, the environment, escape from persecution and, not least, the difficult truths and challenging history of the Mayflower story and ask has the world really changed? 

Gay Kent who came up with the idea back in 2016 explained: “Originally in addition to exhibitions of the work, we were planning to host the US artists and return visits were arranged. The pandemic made that impossible but supportive messages went back and forth across the ocean and new friendships were forged.” 

“As the planned exhibition dates came and went, we didn’t know if the shows  would ever happen, but miraculously the exhibition in Cape Cod went ahead at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in July 2020 and the reception to the work in the US was so positive that an extra exhibition was arranged at the University of Massachusetts. Although the Theatre Royal remained closed, we were able to put on an extra exhibition at Torre Abbey in Torquay – an unexpected bonus. We really wanted the people of Plymouth to be able to enjoy the work and to see different aspects of the idea of journeying so we were delighted when the Theatre Royal was eventually able to reschedule the exhibition.” 

“The chosen theme turned out to be more relevant than we could have known. All of us have been on a huge journey of our own over the last 18 months in coping with the unknown and the twists and turns of events that we couldn’t control and which affected all aspects of our lives. I think that this has made looking at the work of these artists especially poignant and powerful and people are finding a real connection with the emotions and images in the work.” 

Printmaking, including etching and linoprinting, has become increasingly popular in recent years and writing about the exhibition, Fiona Robinson, President of the Royal West of England Academy, describes both the unpredictable journey of the printmaking process and how the work itself deals with such themes as human endeavour, resilience, determination and fortitude.  

The exhibition at the Theatre Royal runs between 9 September and 20 November 2021 with restricted opening times – it can be viewed if attending a performance, or on the following open days between 12 noon and 3pm when artists will be present: Saturday 25 September, Saturday 23 October and Thursday 18 November.