Saving Ron’s Place

26th January 2020 News 0

Our #savingronsplace crowdfunding campaign is now live! Please help us to save and conserve this extraordinary ‘Outsider Art’ environment created by the late Ron Gittins in his Birkenhead flat. Thank you!

Saving Ron’s Place

In Birkenhead, across the river Mersey from Liverpool, stands a house with an interior like no other. Welcome to Ron’s Place, the home of Jan of The Caravan Gallery’s late uncle, Ron Gittins. A complex and colourful character, to say the least, Ron’s obsession with ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome led him to transform his rented flat into his very own highly ornate classical ‘villa’. Many people were intrigued by the extraordinary totemic sculpture (pictured below, sadly destroyed due to health and safety concerns) at the entrance to Ron’s rented ground floor flat but very few knew of the splendours that lay within.

Visiting Ron’s place with Jan’s family shortly after his death in September 2019, we were all totally awestruck by what we discovered. Virtually every surface is decorated, many painted with murals depicting historical scenes, some of which are still partially obscured by the vast hoard of trash / treasure Ron collected for inspiration and art creation in his home-cum-studio. Most spectacular of all are the three stunning concrete fireplace sculptures of a roaring lion, a bull and what appears to be a temple.

After many sleepless nights we, as artists, knew we had to do our best to preserve Ron’s legacy. Although we hadn’t seen a great deal of him in recent years (as stated earlier, he could be ‘difficult’) Jan acknowledges what an inspiring non-conforming influence he had on her as a young artist. We invited a number of trusted friends and colleagues in the arts, museums, heritage and local history to visit and share their thoughts and expertise. Thanks to their knowledge and enthusiasm, and crucially to the sympathetic owners of the property – Salisbury Management Services, who have allowed us to take on the rental – we now have an amazing opportunity to save what has been described as an Outsider art gem for the nation and turn it into a cultural asset for the local community. Although Ron, who called himself ‘The Minstrel’, had some early arts and drama training at the Laird School of Art in Birkenhead and Withens Lane in Wallasey, he went on to pursue his own very particular vision resulting in the creation of this extraordinary immersive art environment purely for his own pleasure.

The image on the right (above) which we included in our exhibition and book extra{ordinary} Photographs of Britain by The Caravan Gallery has caught many people’s imagination. We would love to create a replacement door surround so that Ron’s Place once again has the entrance it deserves.

Lion fireplace containing a frying pan (for pancakes) in the Lion Room

Securing Ron’s Place, however, is just the beginning of our project and there is a great deal of work to be done. Ron had not allowed landlords into his domain to carry out repairs and upgrades so there are very few facilities or home comforts. Family members and friends have helped clear out a huge amount of rubbish and have rescued items of interest – including life size papier-mâché  Roman centurion body parts – but there is still plenty of material to salvage and document. Ron was an avid letter writer, note taker and collector (a trait inherited by Caravan Jan!), keeping everything from receipts (mostly for sharp sand, mushy peas and custard), books, photographs, objects and anything at all that could be used for making art.

The whole place needs modernising, particularly with regard to heating and lighting, while keeping all Ron’s work intact – this obviously requires great sensitivity and expertise. The artwork requires conservation, especially some of the murals and painted ceilings which are showing signs of wear and tear. If we are to make the place usable and visitor-friendly for open days where people can share their memories of Ron, exhibitions, public events etc. it will be necessary to fit a new kitchen, acquire tables and chairs, organise exhibition / display equipment and arrange internet access. Exterior storage space will be needed in the garden, which itself can turned into a useful,  attractive and creative wildlife-friendly outdoor space.

Temple fireplace in the back kitchen – the lack of murals in this room means we can turn it into a functional contemporary kitchen for meetings and hospitality.

Taking on the responsibility of Ron’s Place requires a huge leap of faith on our behalf given The Caravan Gallery’s additional project commitments but we’re encouraged by the incredible warmth and affection already shown by those who knew Ron, and by the enthusiastic response to his incredible creative output. We believe the possibilities are endless – not only to conserve what Ron left behind, leading to potential exhibitions, publications, merchandise and film projects – to inspiring new and exciting artistic and community endeavours in the future.

Please give generously and support Ron’s Place in whatever way you can and – to use one of Ron’s favourite phrases – ‘without prejudice’!

Many thanks,
Jan and Chris
The Caravan Gallery CIC (Jan Williams & Chris Teasdale)

We need to save and conserve Ron’s Place as an extraordinary example of an Outsider Art environment and make it an asset to the local community and beyond: