THE humble shed: a place where generations of men have retired to pot plants, fix tools and, perhaps just occasionally, escape the boss indoors.
But in 2009 Richard Bartle had a rather unusual notion about this most reflective of environments.
“I got thinking being in a shed is almost like a religious experience, a kind of refuge,” he says. “And I thought how great it would be if, in these buildings at the bottom of the garden, there really were secret religious temples.”
So, the 45-year-old of Sheffield city centre, built one in miniature.
He constructed a two-foot shed and then, inside, he fitted a tiny Islamic Mosque.
He hand-weaved a mini praying rug, hand-carved the Imam’s seat and hand-decorated the walls with Islamic symbolism. He finished the floor with marble, installed electricity to light tiny lamps, and added a one centimetre Qur’an bought while in Istanbul.
“It took months,” he recalls. “I became obsessed with getting it perfect.”
And then when he was done? He decided to build 11 more such sheds - each housing a different religious building.
Now, three years later, that collection - which so wowed the Arts Council they agreed to help fund it - is finally complete.
In these 12 tiny sheds are, among others, detailed interpretations of a Catholic Church (complete with stained glass windows of Mary and Joseph), a Sikh Gurdwara, a Baha’i House Of Worship and a Jewish Synagogue - holding a complete Hanukkah just an inch high.
Among other seriously impressive details are a Sistine Chapel style ceiling mural featuring Jesus in the Catholic Church and two carved foxes protecting the entrance to the Shinto shrine. Lamps in a Hindu temple were made from deodorant balls.
“The detail was everything,” says Richard, the son of a Rotherham builder who became a professional artist in 1996 after spending years working with his dad. “It sort of started because I was thinking about religious intolerance.
“In centuries past people got round persecution by building chapels in secret cubby holes in their houses but you couldn’t do that in a Barratt home, could you? I thought you’d have to do it in the shed. It sparked my imagination.”
The collection will be exhibited for the first time from this Saturday at 20-21 Visual Arts Centre in Scunthorpe.
But it is already generating interest across the UK.
“The fact the Arts Council helped fund it has given it some kudos,” says Richard, a father-of-two. “And a few galleries around the country have expressed an interest in exhibiting them, so I’m hoping they’ll do a tour.
“It’s great that after spending three years of your life doing something, people seem to appreciate it.”
The exhibition Deities At The Bottom Of The Garden runs until February 23 at 20-21 in Church Square, Scunthorpe.
HE’S spent the last three years making miniature sheds but Richard Bartle has spent the last 16 on an altogether more life-sized project too.
He is the man behind Bloc Studios, an Arundel Street workspace and gallery complex set up in an old cutlery works. It is currently home to 52 artists including sculptures, painters, jewellers and Richard himself.
“We’re a bit of a secret to a lot of Sheffield,” he says. “But we think we’re bringing something different to the city centre, and it has a bit of a community feel.”
He opened the place with three others in 1996 after graduating in fine art from the old Bretton Hall College.