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Auguries of Innocence: First Experiences with Letterpress Exhibition

EVENT: Auguries of Innocence: First Experiences with Letterpress Exhibition

DATE: 22nd May 2023 - 23rd June 2023

TIME: 9.30 am - 5.00 pm Mondays to Fridays (when Wynter Room not in use)

VENUE: Wynter Room, Swedenborg House

ARTIST/S: William Blake, Students of Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University

CURATOR/S: Nicholas Jeeves, Liz Fraser

Auguries of Innocence: First Experiences with Letterpress. Prints by graphic design students at Cambridge School of Art, ARU 2014–18

In association with Ruskin Arts Publications; the Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University; and the Blake Society:

Each year from 2014 to 2018, graphic design students at Cambridge School of Art, ARU, were assigned a brief: to typeset and print in letterpress a couplet from William Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’. None of them had used letterpress before.

A selection of their prints is exhibited here, comprising the poem in its entirety. Says ARU tutor Nicholas Jeeves, who conceived and directed the project:

“Letterpress is a useful way for design students to make new discoveries about themselves and their work. Its inherent limitations require a complete change of mindset: designs cannot be adequately prepared on a computer because the typefaces there are not the same as those in the type drawers; corrections to a design are not made by the click of a mouse but by the painstaking disassembly and reassembly of metal letters; and printing occurs not by selecting ‘print’ from a menu on a screen, but by rolling a thin layer of ink evenly onto the letters, gently laying over them a sheet of paper, and cranking a steel cylinder over the top to create an impression.

“What we are seeing in this collection, then, is not just a new way of looking at Blake’s poem, but the evidence of sixty-six transitions between innocence and experience.

“It took five years to complete the project and another four (with a pandemic in the middle) to finally share them with an audience, but still with every viewing of the prints I catch one of these transitional moments anew — a bright conceptual leap here, an effective use of overprinting there, or a word set just so that it brings a delicate tension to the page. Indeed, each print contains some wonderful example of a discovery fixed in print. I think Blake would have liked that, both as a poet and as a printmaker. He might also have enjoyed these new designs for his words as sacred evidence of the young mind at serious play – and so might we”.

A book collecting all of the prints for ‘Auguries of Innocence’, launched here at Swedenborg House on 22 May 2023, is now published by Ruskin Arts Publications and available to buy via Blurb. With essays by Nicholas Jeeves, letterpress tutor Elizabeth Fraser, and Blake scholar Sibylle Erle, the book also features over fifty remarkable images of experiments and works in progress.

The original prints made by the students, which now feature in the book Auguries of Innocence: First Experiences with Letterpress, are on display in the Wynter Room (2nd floor) at Swedenborg House, and are viewable during our office opening hours of 9.30 am – 5.00 pm Mondays to Fridays, when the room is not in use for other events or private hire. Please call 0207 405 7986  (or email to for confirmation that the Wynter Room is open to the public at the time you would like to visit.

Nicholas Jeeves is a lecturer in graphic design at Cambridge School of Art, an editor at Ruskin Arts Publications and associate editor at The Public Domain Review. He conceived the ‘Auguries of Innocence’ project and edited and designed this book. His website:

Elizabeth Fraser is a lecturer at Cambridge School of Art where she teaches letterpress and relief printmaking. A widely exhibited printmaker, her practice and research plays with the interface between our analogue and digital lives. She delivered the practical instruction for this project. Her website: