The Hold’s autumn exhibition, Picture Books For All, showcases work of influential printers, W.S. Cowell


The Hold’s autumn exhibition, Picture Books For All, opens on Friday 21 October, and explores the history of Ipswich-based printers W.S. Cowell Ltd.

A painting of the Ipswich skyline

'A prospect of Ipswich in the county of Suffolk' by W.S.Cowell.

A visually rich selection of books, prints, original artwork and journals will chart the local, national and international importance of W.S. Cowell.

The free Suffolk Archives exhibition on Ipswich Waterfront will also look at where Cowell sits in the history of modernism in Britain and examines their significant contribution to literature and society through design.

Founded in 1818, W.S. Cowell were general printers that re-invented themselves as progressive art printers during the late 1930s and 1940s. They became colour-plate lithographic printers and were pioneers of an acetate-sheet based process, called plasticowell, which allowed for an immediate and direct transfer from artist to press.

They went on to become instrumental in the launch of Puffin Picture Books at the start of the Second World War, and worked with leading illustrators and artists including Kathleen Hale, Eric Ravilious, Edward Ardizzone, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse; as well as with national art schools including the Royal College of Art.

The final section of the exhibition is dedicated to exploring Cowell's legacy and their impact on today’s thriving illustrated book market.

Picture Books For All logoPicture Books For All features rare books and artwork from specialist collections, and hidden gems from the W.S. Cowell archive including:

  • Eric Ravilious original drawings and prints from the Royal Museums Greenwich collections
  • Edward Ardizonne original illustrations from the Tim and Lucy book series
  • First editions of many favourite titles such as Orlando the Marmalade Cat, Barbar the Elephant and the Puffin Picture Book series.

Councillor Bobby Bennett, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Equality and Communities said:

“Picture Books For All offers a fascinating insight into this influential Ipswich company and will particularly appeal to anyone interested in illustration, design, books and the print press, as well as local history. We look forward to welcoming people to The Hold and sharing this amazing exhibition with them.”

Emily Shepperson, Exhibition and Interpretation Officer at Suffolk Archives, said:

“We’ve woven together material held at Suffolk Archives with a collection of colour proofs of illustrations for publications printed by W.S. Cowells. The latter are on loan from illustrator David Gentleman, who has worked a lot in Suffolk, and his wife Sue, who is the daughter of George Ewart Evans – a collector of East Anglian folklore and oral histories.”

Picture Books For All is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which means Suffolk Archives are able to provide free entry to the exhibition. The National Lottery Heritage Fund distributes funding which is made possible thanks to National Lottery players.

In August, Suffolk Archives worked with Tower Street Print Project (TSPP) on a week-long summer school for GSCE and A Level art students. The group developed skills in print making; their final work is used on the exhibition marketing materials and will be used in their portfolios.

The Hold’s exhibition programme includes:

Exhibition Curator Tours, throughout November and December, £5/ £4

Go beyond the displays with a special tour from our exhibition team. Find out more, hear new stories, and ask your burning questions. Alternate Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the exhibition run. Ticket includes tour and exhibition admission.

'Picture Books For All' Talk and Q&A, Thursday 10 November, 7pm – 9 pm, £6

A special talk discusses the exhibition at The Hold, ending with an audience Q&A session.

How To…Lino Cutting, Saturday 12 November, 10am – 1pm, £25

Printmaking techniques have been used since the 7th century to embellish manuscripts and books with illustrations. At these workshops run by the Tower Street Printmaking Studio, you will learn how to hand print your own two-colour linocut illustration. No art experience is necessary to enjoy these workshops and all materials are provided, along with light refreshments.

Printing workshop for Kids, Saturday 5 and 19 November, 10am – 12.30pm, £5 (accompanying adults go free)

Come and try out different printing styles including potato and block printing and take home your own designed bag. Children’s lunch boxes are also available to book in advance at £4 each.

Film Screening – Eric Ravilious – Drawn to War, Thursday 24 November, 7pm – 9.00pm, £7

Drawn to War tells the true story of Eric Ravilious, one of Britain’s greatest landscape artists, who died in a plane crash while on commission as Official War Artist in Iceland in 1942. His life is as compelling and enigmatic as his art, set against the dramatic wartime locations that inspire him. The film brings to life this unique and still grossly undervalued British artist caught in the crossfire of war 80 years ago, whose legacy largely sank without trace, until now.

Picture Books For All runs until Sunday 8 January 2023 at The Hold on Ipswich Waterfront. Entry is free and open to all ages.

Exhibition opening times are 9:30am-4:30pm Monday to Friday, with late opening on Thursdays. And 10:00am - 4:00pm Saturday and Sunday.

Events are ticketed, and can be booked by visiting the Suffolk Archives website

The Café At The Hold is open daily for visitors to drop in for refreshments.

The exhibition is a collaboration between the University of Suffolk and Suffolk Archives. The content of the exhibition has been researched and co-curated by; Nigel Ball, Head of Arts and Course Leader for Graphic Design; Rob Ramsden, Lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration and Vassiliki Tzomaka, Lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration – working in collaboration with Suffolk Archives to showcase and explore the W.S. Cowell archive held at The Hold.