A unique piece of County Durham history is being used to offer art lovers the opportunity to step into the shoes of one of the region’s best-loved artists.

A printing press, owned by mining artist, Tom McGuinness, has been installed at No.42, Bishop Auckland for a special series of art workshops.

For decades, Tom used the large, cast-iron press to make powerful artworks, reflecting his experiences of life underground and in the mining communities.

Now, guided by his former student, Elaine Kenyon, artists of all ages and abilities can follow Tom’s creative processes to create and inscribe their design before having their artwork printed on his own original press. Elaine, who was taught by the artist from 2004 to 2006, will be running the two-hour workshops on selected dates throughout the year.

She said: “Tom was always trying different methods to achieve what he wanted in his images, and he taught me many different techniques in printing.

“He was a very kind, modest person and so knowledgeable in printmaking. Although I only knew him for a short time, he was a friend as well as a teacher and I’m grateful for the knowledge he passed on to me.

“It’s fantastic that Tom’s family has enabled his printmaking to continue with the press and a wonderful legacy that Tom has left, offering people of all ages the opportunity to produce prints on his press.”

As a Bevin Boy, Tom McGuinness was conscripted to work at Fishburn Colliery in 1944 and continued to work in the coal industry for the next 40 years. A keen artist, Tom attended classes at Darlington School of Art and the sketching club at the Spennymoor Settlement and is now widely considered to be one of the best-known mining artists.

Many of his atmospheric depictions of colliery life hang on the walls of Bishop Auckland’s Mining Art Gallery, which is holding a special exhibition, The Bevin Boys – War’s Forgotten Workforce, focussing on the art produced by men sent to work in the mines during World War Two.

Part of The Auckland Project, the Gallery is a permanent home for the Gemini Collection of Mining Art, which includes 60 artworks created by Tom on his printing press.

He bought the press in the mid-1970s and moved it into his end-of-terrace Bishop Auckland home, where he worked from his studio. Tom’s daughter, Corinne Aspel, who volunteers at the Mining Art Gallery, said: “My brother Anthony earned extra pocket money by winding the press and lifting off the paper.

“I think dad decided to create prints as a way to make his art more accessible, his work had become more popular but less affordable for people.

“He loved to experiment with new techniques and push the envelope, and printing was a way to stretch himself creatively as well.

“However, for me, my memories of the printing press are of stubbing my toes on it on my way to the bathroom.”

In 2004 the printing press was moved into Bishop Auckland Town Hall with the opening of the McGuinness Gallery, dedicated to the mining artist.  Tom used the space to run his own workshops, passing on his printing skills to keen artists – including Elaine Kenyon who took on the teaching role after Tom’s death in 2006.

The press is now on a long-term loan to The Auckland Project and will be in use at No.42 throughout 2018 as the monthly print-making workshops get under way.

Printing Workshops

The workshops are split into two sessions, 10am – 12pm for those with some experience in print making, and 1.30pm – 3.30pm for beginners.

Participants will sketch out their design before inscribing it on a printing plate which will be put through the press by course leader Elaine Kenyon to create a unique print. Each session will be run by Elaine, so budding printers can return to develop their skills and learn new printing techniques.

Carys Harper, Learning Officer at The Auckland Project, said: “This is a unique opportunity to have artwork printed on a rare printing press, a chance to be a part of history.

“Printmaking is an exciting art form to explore, you can build on the most simple of designs to print in different ways, with different colours and create a different artwork each time.”

All Printing Workshops are £5 per session, pre-booking is required and is on a first come, first served basis. For more information or to book a place, email bookings@aucklandproject.org or call 01388 743 797.