Updated: Aug 5, 2019
In 1979, a few friends borrowed a shop in Greenwich Market to exhibit their etchings. 40 years later, Greenwich Printmakers is still championing handmade, original prints and providing a community for its artist members. Elaine Marshall, founder member and gallery manager, talks about how it started and why the gallery is so special.
“I remember the first thing we ever sold… Someone came into the shop and they liked something, so we said, ‘Alright, well take it away, and if you like it, you can come back and pay for it’. We were quite naive. We had no idea it was going to last,” says Elaine Marshall, gallery manager of Greenwich Printmakers, which is now celebrating its 40th year.
She was one of a group of artists who had studied etching at Morley College and wanted to exhibit their work. When an opportunity came up to take over a shop in Greenwich, Elaine – along with other founder members Maureen Black, Elizabeth Morris and Jean Barham – moved fast. Three weeks later, it was their own gallery.
“Jean knew Joan Pickard, who had moved into 7 Turnpin Lane. Joan had moved into the flat above, and she didn’t really know what to do with the shop beneath it. So we said, ‘Well, we’ll turn it into a gallery for you’,” says Elaine. “Joan Pickard was a wonderful woman, and a great character, and she absolutely loved the idea. We just paid her a small commission, and she was very happy with that.”
Greenwich Printmakers is a co-operative, which means it is jointly run by the artists who exhibit there. They all have different roles and tasks and take it in turns to sit in the gallery. Today, new members are elected by a committee when a space in the group comes up, but in 1979, becoming a member was a bit more relaxed.
“Timothy Alves was just walking past and he called in and we said, ‘Hey, do you want to help? Here’s a paintbrush’. It was like that – it wasn’t any elections or anything like that. We even had a couple of potters as well,” says Elaine.
In 1979, Greenwich Market wasn’t the buzzy place it is today. There had been a fruit, veg, meat and fish market on current site since the 1830s, but it had declined after the Second World War and by the time Greenwich Printmakers opened, it was very quiet.
“It was an entirely different place,” says Elaine. “It had been a fruit and veg market, like Covent Garden, and the units around the edge, they were where the fruit and veg guys kept their barrows. So nothing much was happening… I can’t even remember any fruit and veg people there.”
But it was revived as an arts and crafts market in 1985, and in 1986, Greenwich Printmakers was able to move to one of the units around the edge – 1a Greenwich Market, where the gallery still is today.
It was hard work to turn the empty unit into a gallery, but Elaine also remembers feeling that Greenwich Printmakers had evolved from its early days at 7 Turnpin Lane. “We grew up and left home, really,” she says.
As well as having shows in its own space, Greenwich Printmakers began exhibiting at other sites. One of the first shows was held in Presteigne, Wales, and was opened by the artist Sidney Nolan, a friend of the gallery’s owner.