Abandoned Devon merchant’s house turned into an art gallery

A former 17th-century merchant’s house in Ashburton opened as an art gallery after a seven-month restoration program.

Specializing in fine art, the Reuben Lenkiewicz Art Gallery on North Street pays homage to owner Reuben’s late father, Robert Lenkiewicz, who was one of the Southwest’s most famous artists of modern times.

Along with some of Robert Lenkiewicz’s most important works, the gallery is home to one of the region’s finest art collections, including a piece by Joan Miro and works by Christopher Deacon.

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The gallery also showcases the work of Reuben’s brother Wolfe von Lenkiewicz, who is in the South West for the first time.



Reuben’s knew that the historic Ashburton Building on North Street was the perfect place to build a living museum in honor of his father’s artistic legacy.

Reuben said: “The gallery is a tribute to my father, but it is also an art center with resident artists, many different clubs and live music in the gallery. The main thing is art.

“There is an incredible selection of my father’s work. We just picked up six paintings that I loaned to The Box for a year, including “Mouse With Wool,” a painting my father considered his best.

“This is among other things a painting of his first wife Mouse Lenkiewicz who is pregnant in the painting with my brother Wolfe. The painting contains many ideas, themes and geometric shapes that were important to his artistic influences and development.

“Because he wants to help the gallery, my brother has for the first time allowed some of his work to come from London. Here we have an amazing gold leaf framed painting that is framed by the same frame makers as the Rembrandts at the National Portrait Gallery.



The Ashburton Paper Shop was the original business at No.6 North Street
The Ashburton Paper Shop was the original business at No.6 North Street

Formerly a woolen merchant’s house, then a stationery factory and now a center of creativity, the North Street building has a pretty 17th-century garden and a Tudor facade.

The perfect addition to the gallery, the Secret Garden has been reinvented as the Coffee Garden Cafe serving fresh Italian coffees and daily baked scones and cakes.

In addition to exhibitions and painting classes, the gallery also hosts live music events, a book group, guitar lessons, as well as artist studios and room and room rentals. All that would not have been possible without Reuben’s vision and seven months of almost all-alone restoration of the building.



The gallery owner Reuben Lenkiewicz carried out much of the restoration work himself.
The gallery owner Reuben Lenkiewicz carried out much of the restoration work himself.



The storefront sign, sills and windows have been completely rebuilt
The storefront sign, sills and windows have been completely rebuilt

He said: “I saw the incredible potential locked in the building even though it was in such a terrible state.

“It was truly a wreck, but if I could bring back its original features I knew it would be a beautiful 17th century merchant’s house with a secret garden that no one had seen in decades.

“I knew its location, size and characteristics would make it a perfect place to build a living museum in honor of my father’s artistic legacy.

“The before and after photos don’t really show the amount of work and time that went into the renovation. The work lasted almost a year and had to be done in phased projects.



The 17th century building has been completely transformed
The 17th century building has been completely transformed



The property looks amazing
The property looks amazing

During the restoration trip, the walls of the property were dry coated and waterproofed, plastered, underlayed and painted.

The floors were repaired and sanded, the ceilings stripped, plastered and painted, the electricity and lighting were redone, and the storefront sign, sills and windows were completely rebuilt. Some beautiful old fireplaces were also discovered during the work.

Reuben said, “I did all the plastering, all the construction work. I enjoyed it in so many ways because I could see where it was heading. I had a vision for what I would do, how I wanted it to be and it was fun to watch him progress, grow and develop.



No one had seen the 17th century garden, now a cafe, in decades
No one had seen the 17th century garden, now a cafe, in decades



The Coffee Garden Cafe serves fresh Italian coffees
The Coffee Garden Cafe serves fresh Italian coffees

“I had a lot of help from my friends and family. I have also received tremendous support and encouragement from the local community, especially alongside The Ironmongers, Nutshell Antiques and many more.

Reuben said the public response to the gallery has been very positive. He said his father would have loved it too.

“We’re going to have a lot of events here,” Reuben said. “We have a book group this Sunday, I do lectures on my dad, guitar lessons and guitar bands, we have live music and then we have all the resident artists here and they’re going to be teaching. of them are students of my father.

“My father would have loved it. To see some of his very important paintings redeemed and exhibited is really good. I’m really lucky because I feel like I have a part of him here.

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