St. Michael’s Printshop, still rolling after 49 years

Posted on March 31, 2023 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments


Moving printmaking presses into St. Michael’s Printshop in St. Michael’s, N.L. in 1974 (photo credit: St. Michael’s Printshop)


Founded as an artist-run printmaking studio, St. Michael’s Printshop in N.L. has hosted artists from across the globe over its nearly 50 years in operation. As the organization continues to support visual artists, milestone celebrations are soon to come.

Early days

St. Michael’s Printshop was established by printmaking artists Heidi Oberheide and Don Wright in 1974. Originally located in an old hangar of the St. John’s Airport, the organization later found a more permanent home in an abandoned schoolhouse in its namesake community St. Michael’s, N.L. With financial support from Memorial University and Canada Council for the Arts, the organization provided artists with equipment and working space for printmaking.

Even in the early days, St. Michael’s Printshop began attracting artists from across the world to visit N.L. and work from their studio. Now formally known as their Visiting Artists Program, the organization has hosted many notable artists over the years including Mary Pratt, Christopher Pratt and Frank Lapointe.


Moving presses into the Printshop’s windows by crane (left) and a workshop at its Harbour Drive location (right) after moving back to St. John’s in the 1990s (photo credit: St. Michael’s Printshop)


Formalized programming

To attract more artists working in the city, St. Michael’s Printshop moved to its current home in downtown St. John’s in an old sail loft on the waterfront in 1986. At this same time, the annual  Don Wright Scholarship was founded in memory of the organization’s co-founder. The program provides financial support to an up-and-coming artist or Bachelor of Fine Arts graduate, plus free access to the Printshop for a year and a gallery exhibition.

The Printshop’s longest-running program was also formalized. Each year, its Visiting Artist Program invites six artists to the work in its studio for one month. Visiting artists are given a residency fee and full access to the Printshop’s facilities. In exchange, the artists showcase their specialized knowledge in a community event or workshop and provide two prints from each edition created during their stay.


Two members pulling a print off a woodblock after a steamroller passed over it at St. Michael’s Printshop’s steamroller event in 2014 (photo credit: St. Michael’s Printshop)


Engaging the community

While still maintaining an art studio and exhibition space for printmaking artists, in recent years St. Michael’s Printshop has increased its programming that engages the local community. Executive director Christeen Francis commented: “We’ve had a dramatic shift in the past three to five years by focusing on also being a community printshop.”

For the community, the organization offers workshops, open studio nights and other events year-round. They also acquired a new mobile printing press that’s more portable, which allows them to host more events around St. John’s and other communities across the province.


Sylvan Hamburger facilitated a jigsaw relief workshop at the Printshop in 2021 (left) and Erik Ruin and Executive Director Christeen Francis conducted a workshop at the mantel in Gros Morne in 2022 (right). Both Sylvan and Erik were participants of the Visiting Artist Program (photo credit: St. Michael’s Printshop)


Milestone celebrations

Through almost half a century in operation, St. Michael’s Printshop has hosted over 300 visiting artists, awarded 30 Don Wright scholarships and has an archive of more than 3,500 prints that were created in its studio.

Looking to the future, Francis says there are big plans to celebrate 50 years in 2024. “We’re in the midst of planning exhibitions in St. John’s and two other locations in the province that will showcase our treasure trove of print archives from the last 50 years. You can expect some cool stuff soon.”

Rolling smooth, 49 years later.

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