Public art project celebrates 400th anniversary of Mayflower’s sailing to America

In 2020, a series of cultural projects will help Plymouth commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s sailing to America.

Now a group of artists have unveiled their contribution to the celebrations, creating pieces of public art which explore aspects of the city’s history and bring them to a new audience.

The Wallflower Project is the brainchild of Dr Jody Patterson, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Plymouth, and art collective Loci, which is made up of graduates from the University’s Fine Art programme.

It will see a series of murals created across the city between now and 2020, in conjunction with heritage and community groups and furthering Plymouth’s burgeoning identity as a city of culture.

Work is currently underway on the first mural, which is titled The Seafarer – The Eager of Spirit, the Heart to Travel and engages the theme of transatlantic journeys during the 400-year period since the Mayflower.

It is being painted on an exterior wall of The Cooperage building in Royal William Yard, and will be unveiled ahead of the Plymouth Art Weekender from September 23-25.

Dr Patterson, whose research focuses on the cultural significance of public art, said:

“Murals are a fantastic way of not only brightening up a community but telling the stories which have made it what it is today. They can create sense of cultural identity and civic pride, but you also want them to generate conversation and debate. We felt the Mayflower was the perfect subject to celebrate in this way, and are looking forward to working with artists and the community to create more pieces of this nature over the next three years.”

The Seafarer – The Eager of Spirit, the Heart to Travel measures around 10metres in height, and has been designed by members of Loci in conjunction with Fine Art lecturers Martin Brooks and Stephen Berry. It depicts a range of historical and nautical themes, with many of the colours taken from existing features within Royal William Yard.

Llyr Davies, who graduated from the BA (Hons) Fine Art course in 2015, is a member of the Loci collective and overseeing the work. He said:

“The Mayflower is an iconic part of Plymouth’s history, and this is an exciting project to be involved with. We are all looking forward to creating pieces of art that people can be proud of and this particular area of Royal William Yard is going to become a creative and cultural hub, so it is great to be contributing to it in this way.”

The project is being supported by Plymouth Culture, which is involved in preparations for the city’s Mayflower 400 celebrations and seeks to uncover emerging talent and engage the community with culture projects.

Dominic Jinks, Executive Director of Plymouth Culture, said:

"I am delighted to see the development of the mural project led by the University of Plymouth. There is a significant growth of visual contemporary arts in Plymouth typified by brilliant projects such as The Plymouth Art Weekender. It is great to see this project being a part of such a vibrant scene in the city that will clearly engage a range of people in the exciting work produced.”

James Pascoe, Events Manager at Royal William Yard, added:

“We have always had close ties to the arts, and supported a wide array of projects including hosting the British Art Show, Barbican Theatre’s Bard in the Yard and the Royal William Yard Festival. We are extremely excited to be supporting the Wallflower Project as part of our broader commitment to the Plymouth Waterfront Partnership and Mayflower 400. Loci are a talented group of artists, most of whom have already exhibited in the Yard, and we see engaging with the cultural agenda as a key part of the development of this amazing place.”

A Crowdfunder campaign has now been launched to fund future murals, and for more information about how to get involved visit https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-wallflower-project-plymouth2020.

Plymouth has been the starting point for many great voyages of discovery. But few of these are better known, or have provided such a lasting international legacy, as the sailing of the Mayflower almost 400 years ago.

When the Pilgrim Fathers set sail from the city on 16 September 1620, arriving some 66 days later on the US East Coast, they could never have imagined that their journey would spark constitutional reform and a special relationship between the UK and the USA which endures to this day.

Landing on 21 November, the first winter saw more than half of the colonists die from malnutrition, disease and the harsh weather. An English-speaking Native American named Samoset helped the colonists, forming an alliance with members of the local Wampanoag tribe and teaching them to hunt animals, gather fish and grow crops.

A year after their arrival, the Plymouth colonists celebrated their first successful harvest with a three-day festival of thanksgiving with the Wampanoag, which was followed by a treaty of mutual protection. And more than 150 years later, the documents signed to mark their epic voyage formed the basis for arguably the most important document in American history, the United States Constitution.

This story goes beyond the sharing of place names and is celebrated by many in the United States as the beginning of a national legacy and, in the UK, as the foundation of one of the most enduring alliances the world has ever known.

The Mayflower 400 commemorations are an opportunity to celebrate those ties, and build new enduring collaborations and friendships. To steer our future, inspired by the past.