The Ink Inspiration project centred on woodblocks held in the collection that were part of a bequest from Marie Hartley. Upon her death, Marie left an extensive collection of her personal belongings including diaries, sketchbooks and 127 woodblocks. Many of the blocks were created to illustrate the books that she co-wrote with Ella Pontefract in the 1930s and 1940s: Swaledale, Wensleydale and Wharfedale.
One of the aims of the project was to reprint the woodblocks to create an archive of images for the museum collection. The Museum invited printmaker and artist Hester Cox to participate in the project. Hester has a BA (Hons) in Illustration and works from her studio in Horton-in-Ribblesdale. She is a member of Leeds Fine Artists, Printmakers Circle and Ålgården Studios in Sweden.
Printing the Woodblocks
From March to May of 2019, Hester printed the woodblocks in the museum gallery at several special events. These events enabled museum visitors to have a close up look at the original woodblocks and to learn about the printing process by watching Hester printing the blocks. To protect the blocks, Hester printed them all by hand by using a wooden baren (a disk-like hand tool with a flat bottom). Hester created two sets of professionally produced prints.
Woodblock Engraving Technique
Woodblock engraving is a form of relief printing similar to linocut and woodcut. This technique differs because the design is cut into the wood block’s end grain instead of along the grain, on a harder wood than the typical woodcut. Wood engravings tend to have more detail and are often smaller. Special tools are used to cut into the wood block, creating a raised surface. Ink is then applied to it, and then transferred onto paper by applying pressure either by hand with a baren or wooden spoon or a printing press. Wood engraving is a technique developed in the 18th century by Thomas Bewick and was a popular way of reproducing images for book illustrations.
A wood engraving block and print of a valley, Swale near Strands, marked on the back as Chapter 12 The Valley. Used as a chapter header on page 134 of ‘Swaledale’ by Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley, 1988 edition
Printing with Wensleydale School
The project included a print workshop with the Year 11 Art students at the Wensleydale School, Leyburn supported with additional support from The Arts Society Wensleydale. The society has been working and supporting young people art print workshops. Hester Cox and Museum Manager, Fiona Rosher visited the year 11 students to look at Marie’s prints, the illustrations from three of her books, and the woodblocks.
The students were amazed to see the incredible detail in her work. Hester taught the basics of relief collagraph printing (collaging materials and textiles directly onto a plate). Then inspired by themes from the Yorkshire Dales landscape and wildlife, they created their own collagraph plates and prints.
The prints produced by Hester from the woodblocks have been digitised. The digital images have been used to create collection inspired products such as cards, mugs and kitchen accessories which are available to buy in the museum shop and on the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s online shop.
The culmination of this project resulted in an exhibition called The View from the Fells – In the Footsteps of Marie Hartley. An exhibition of new collagraph prints by Hester Cox, inspired by the life and work of Marie Hartley and the Yorkshire Dales landscape. Hester researched Marie’s life and work, visited many of the places written about in the three books and created collagraph prints inspired by the Yorkshire Dales landscape.