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Borough Life Summer 2006: The Art Of Wigan

Unique tribute to distinctive artist

He was one of Wigan’s most distinctive and best-loved artists. Now Gerald Rickards, who died in February, is to be given a unique tribute at the gallery which he helped to launch 25 years ago.

Gerald was the first artist in residence at the acclaimed Drumcroon education art centre and the gallery has decided to honour his memory by organising an exhibition of some of his best work in August.

It’s the first time in recent years that Drumcroon, which normally works with schools in term time, has put on a show during the holidays, but as gallery manager Anne-Marie Quinn said: “Gerald was a great friend to Drumcroon and Wigan.

“Like the man, his work had a wonderful charm and humour. It makes you look at Wigan in a different way, and he appeals to traditional and modern tastes alike.”

Following his retirement as head of art at Up Holland Grammar School (now Winstanley College), Gerald painted many of the borough’s buildings and townscapes in an instantly recognisable style.

His unique paintings of Wigan Pier came to symbolise the restored heritage attraction, and when Wigan twinned with Angers in 1988 the council commissioned a new work, Beyond Wigan Pier, which was presented to the city’s mayor.

Anne-Marie added: “Gerald was a wonderful educator who nurtured young and emerging artists. He encapsulated what Drumcroon is all about and it’s fitting that we pay tribute to him.”

Called Bricks and Mortar after Gerald’s fascination with buildings, the exhibition opens to the public on 31st July and can be seen until 31st August.

Drumcroon is open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

Drumcroon may not look like one of the country’s most influential centres for art – but that’s precisely what this former doctor’s surgery in Wigan’s Parson’s Walk has become over the last 25 years.

Part art gallery, part classroom, the council-funded centre has hosted work by some of the world’s best-known artists. Thousands of local schoolchildren have discovered a love for the visual arts during visits to this unique place.

Wigan’s Darren Almond, the Turner prize-nominated artist, confessed to spending much of his time upstairs in Drumcroon’s library when he should have been at college across the road!

So what makes the place special? The centre’s current manager Anne-Marie Quinn said: “From the start, Drumcroon has tried to nurture and inspire children and young artists. Our approach to gallery education has continued to influence the national curriculum and was recently identified by OFSTED as a ‘model of aspiration’ for most other parts of the country.”

Former Wigan educationalist Rod Taylor used his experience at Drumcroon to write a book that changed the way art is taught in the UK.

Now Rod is one of three featured artists in Drumcroon’s current exhibition, Concrete and Glass, along with fellow art educators Brendan Neiland – a former professor at the Royal Academy – and David Hepher. In a series of stunning images, the exhibition explores the modern city and the urban landscape.

While schools are its main customers, Drumcroon is open to members of the public during the week, although not at weekends. If funding allows, this is something the gallery would like to rectify in the near future.

Concrete and Glass can be seen until 17th July.

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