Refuge: Ropner’s Ghost Ship, Preston Park Museum

- Meeting Point

Project Info


  • Stephen Dixon
  • Alison Welsh

Art Forms

  • Multi Media Sculpture


  • Preston Park Museum and Grounds
  • Arts&Heritage
  • Arts Council England Museum Resilience Fund

Project Outline

Refuge: Ropner’s Ghost Ship is part of the Meeting Point programme.

The large multi-media sculpture is a response to the Preston Park Museum collections, highlighting Teesside’s maritime history, traditions and narratives.

The sculpture took the ethereal, ghostlike form of a ship, dramatically lit from within, making connections with the shipbuilding legacy of Robert Ropner, Teesside’s maritime trade and its associated industries.

Elements of the sculpture draw upon the materials and processes of the museum’s Victorian Street, particularly Thos. Wilks’ drapers shop, with its delicate and translucent lace and silk fabrics, embroideries and garments, and the letterpress and block printing equipment in L. Thorman’s print shop.

The ship commemorates and celebrates Robert Ropner’s prominent role in the history of Teesside. Ropner arrived as a penniless teenager in West Hartlepool in 1857, a stowaway on board the steamship Gitana, and went on to become one of the region’s most prominent and successful industrialists. This ‘rags to riches’ tale contains a strong social message about opportunity, migration and tolerance. Ropner’s story might be viewed differently through the lens of current political events; today he might be considered an economic migrant at best, at worst an illegal immigrant.


  • To raise the cultural profile of the museum within the region
  • Engage volunteers in the commission process
  • Find new ways to engage the community in the museum’s social narrative


Arts&Heritage is supporting the ten museums participating in Meeting Point throughout the process, sharing knowledge of presenting contemporary art projects and commissions in non-traditional art spaces.

A networking event between the participating museums and 70 artists from across the UK took place at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and visits to artists’ studios were arranged. Museum teams also met with peers at other properties to learn how they successfully delivered contemporary art projects at their museums and heritage sites.

All museums developed their own Artist’s Brief. Following the networking event artists were invited to send in an expression of interest to museums that interested them.

Four artists were shortlisted by each museum to draw up a more detailed proposal and were paid £500 each.

Impact & Budget

  • £10,000 to include all materials, travel and installation costs
  • £1,000 towards learning and outreach
  • £500 paid to each of four artists shortlisted

The Artist

Alison Welsh is the Head of Fashion Research at Manchester Metropolitan University. She studied Fashion at Newcastle Polytechnic, now Northumbria University. She worked as a trend forecaster in London during the 1980’s before taking a senior lecturer post at Manchester Polytechnic in 1991. Alison became the Course Leader within her first year in education, heading up the BA(Hons) Fashion Programme at Manchester School of Art for 20 years. Alison has been a trustee of Graduate Fashion Week since 2004.

Recently she has been developing a series of women’s garments in response to her Indian research. She is a practicing designer, her work bridging design, craft and art. Experimental cross-disciplinary collaborations with ceramic artists Professor Stephen Dixon and Clare Curneen have taken her out of her fashion comfort zone. Her work has recently been exhibited in Japan (Bunka University, Tokyo) China (Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology) India (Queen’s Gallery, British Council, New Delhi) and regularly within the UK.