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The Story of Double Elephant

Double Elephant began with a Colombian Eagle Printing Press. For years it had sat in pieces in the house of Simon Ripley’s parents, an unwanted remnant from his grandfather’s commercial print businesses, previously used to print wine and spirit labels. After studying printmaking at Plymouth College of Art Simon rescued this beautiful old machine, and decided that he was going to put it to good use – and thus the idea of Double Elephant Print Workshop was born.

In 1997 Simon called a meeting of all his creative contacts to discuss forming a printmaker’s artist’s cooperative, and through that he met Lynn Bailey. Lynn was the main supporter of Simon’s vision, and was as eager as Simon to foster a community where artists of all backgrounds and experience levels could meet and develop their artistic practice – Double Elephant’s policy of making art available to all was a keystone from the start.

In their first newsletter in July that year Simon and Lynn asked members for suggestions of what the workshop should be called – only one member provided a suggestion, and thus the name of Double Elephant Print Workshop was adopted! Double Elephant refers to the large imperial sized paper sometimes used in printmaking.

Lynn and Simon had a very clear vision of how they wanted their company to be run, based on inspirational visits to Dartington Print workshop and Ormond Road in north London. They began running small workshops from their new studio at the Old Bakery on Spicer Road – the space was cold and badly lit, but that didn’t stop their membership and course attendance from growing rapidly. Some of these early members are still with Double Elephant today.

With support from ALIAS the scope of Double Elephant began to grow, helping the organisation ride the wave of artist-led initiatives that were popular and well-funded at the time. This led to Double Elephant’s first exhibition in 2000 which happened to be at Exeter Phoenix, to where in 2008 we would move to bigger, brighter and warmer premises. It also helped with the creation of a project involving adults suffering from mental health issues called Participate – the first incarnation of our award winning group Print on Prescription, which still runs to this day.

Double Elephant began as a dream of the ideal work model – a place where artists could share their skills and earn money whilst being supported in their art work. It has grown to become a thriving member of the arts community in the South West, a hub for professionals and first-timers to gain new skills and inspiration.

Handcrafted by Rock Kitchen Harris