Tributes paid to pioneering Jarrow art gallery founder Vince Rea, who showcased amazing works in a former nuclear bunker

A ‘true gentleman’ and a ‘living legend’. Tributes have been paid to a South Tyneside arts pioneer.

Vince Rea – the man who founded the Bede gallery in a former nuclear bunker in Jarrow and brought works by Picasso to it – has died aged 87.

Since 2015, Vince lived in the Palmersdene care home in Jarrow where he was ‘loved by all’, said deputy manager Megan Graves.

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“He was a pleasure to care for,” added Megan, who described Vince as a ‘bubbly character’ who would ‘mesmerise’ everyone with stories from his past.

Tributes have been paid to Vince Rea.

‘A true gentleman’

“He was a true gentleman and he was liked by residents and staff alike.”

Vince continued his love for art at Palmersdene and was part of an arts group at the home.

“He would take the class and do art sessions with residents and staff. He has done paintings for the home,” said Megan, adding his passing would be deeply felt by everyone there.

Vince pictured in 2008 with memorabilia related to the Jarrow March and Palmer's Shipyard.

Fellow South Tyneside artist Sheila Graber described Vince as a ‘legend in his lifetime’.

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‘One of the most respected galleries in the UK’

She praised Vince who, along with his wife Willa, created the Bede Gallery from a nuclear bunker in Springwell Park in 1967.

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Vince with the Jarrow March exhibition in 2006.
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Sheila told the Shields Gazette that Vince had ‘turned it into one of the most respected art galleries in the UK’.

The Bede Gallery, in Butcher’s Bridge Road in Jarrow, officially opened in 1970 and went on to become a focal point for artists throughout the region and beyond.

Picasso, Matisse, Degas and Hockney on show

It housed several successful exhibitions, including works by Picasso and a travelling photographic display from Linda McCartney.

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Vince pictured with the diary of Austrian artist Fritz Schwarz-Waldegg in 2005.

But just as importantly, it was a historical resource centre, collecting evidence from 200 years of the town’s mining and shipbuilding past especially Palmer’s Yard and the Jarrow March.

By 1972, the gallery had developed an enviable reputation in the arts world. That was the year the gallery hosted an exhibition of ground-breaking American pop art.

Vince ran the Bede Gallery for 28 years before it closed in 1996.

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In its lifetime, it had showed a range of exhibitions and art works from artists including Henri Matisse, Sir Sidney Nolan, Hockney, Degas and Don McKinley.

Vince in 2004.