Standing near the pile of sand with the rubber snakes and plastic dinosaurs, next to white swan planters with red flowers in a courtyard surrounded by chairs painted deep red, purple, blue and yellow, Randy Gilson chatted with a newlywed couple from New Jersey.
In paint-covered clothes that looked like the work of an abstract expressionist, he advised Joe Zangaro and KT Carney to savor their time together during a visit to Pittsburgh last week as part of the couple’s honeymoon — “The Rebirth Tour,” they called it.
Gilson, the artist behind Randyland, the brightly colored homes and fairy tale-like courtyard at Arch and Jacksonia streets in the heart of the Mexican War Streets, is looking for a bit of rebirth himself.
He began a Kickstarter, an online fundraising campaign, and as of Sunday had raised $10,784, surpassing his $10,000 goal to repaint a fading and weathered map of Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhoods on the side of his house. The campaign ends on Tuesday.
“She will be a beautiful sculpture for the eye and heart,” Gilson said of his plans for the revitalized map.
Gilson, 57, started Randyland in 1996 when he bought a house out of foreclosure for $10,000. He repaired the home to make it habitable and later bought a vacant lot and a neighboring house to expand his artwork’s canvas.
He made the map five or six years ago, painting the streets of old Allegheny City. Ducks float on the pond and people play tennis in West Park. Allegheny General Hospital stands tall on North Avenue with a helicopter rising behind it. There is a parrot and a flamingo at the National Aviary.
Gilson wanted people to know all that the area had to offer.
“One of the great things about our little neighborhood is it’s got a lot of different and surprising elements and Randyland is really a part of it,” said Tom Hardy, a consultant with the Allegheny City Central Association. “He’s just poured his heart and soul into promoting this neighborhood.”
But the paint has started to fade and crack. Vinyl street names “twisted like bacon” in the sun and fell off the map. Buildings tumbled to the sidewalk.
Gilson wants to start over. Street names will be engraved into steel plates and hung, he said. He plans to use paint that can weather decades of sun and rain. Gilson said he needs to add buildings, such as shops on East Ohio Street, Stage AE and parking garages around Heinz Field and PNC Park.
Sometimes he doubts $10,000 will be enough.
Gilson works as a waiter and makes most of his living from tips. He squeezes every nickel to work on Randyland. Visitors left $6 in a donation bin one day last week. He hasn’t sought outside funding in the past.
“This Kickstarter is a struggle,” Gilson said. “But struggle should be your best friend.”
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or [email protected].