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Your Mother Didn't Want You to See This

Ronnie Mack Edison of Ice Cream Gallery & Toys

Ronnie Mack Edison loves art.

Ronnie Mack Edison loves art.

A piece from the Ice Cream Gallery.

A piece from the Ice Cream Gallery.

A piece from the Ice Cream Gallery.

Ronnie Mack Edison says he feels in no better place than "down here, where it's dirty." Edison means 117 S. Division, where he's nestled Ice Cream Gallery and Toys right in the Avenue for the Arts. Recalling nights spent at the the now-closed music venue The Reptile House, Edison says he's been in love with this block for years. "It was kind of the hub of the punk rock scene in the '80s and early '90s," he says. 

Edison's other love is lowbrow art. Edison, who is originally from Cedar Springs, Mich., bought his first piece of such art -- a Ron English -- in Los Angeles. He moved there in 1984, worked in kitchens, and played in punk bands. In addition to a physical collection, he's used his body to display his aesthetic. His arms are lined with tattoos of his preferred art. 

Edison's affinity for collecting lowbrow art and designer toys meant he was traveling to Lift in Ann Arbor and Rotofugi in Chicago to bolster his collection upon moving back to the Midwest. But in October, Edison took a gamble, quit his job as a chef, and opened Ice Cream Gallery and Toys, becoming Grand Rapids' first full-time lowbrow gallery.

"With ArtPrize and with the world looking at (Grand Rapids) now, and with so many artists coming out the woodwork," he says, "(I decided) to give a shot."

For the uninitiated, lowbrow art can seem a bit dangerous. "Lowbrow art is the stuff your mom didn't want you to see," Edison says. "It's the sex, the drugs, the rock 'n roll. It's born out of underground comic books of the late '50s and early '60s."

He cites pinstriping, airbrushing, street art, and punk rock flyers as other manifestations of lowbrow art. Some primary examples include Frank Kozik, Coop, Mark Ryden, Banksy, Obey, Von Franco, and Luke Chueh

The response to the gallery, Edison says, has been incredible, and the talent in Grand Rapids is world-class. "I've traveled to the East Coast, Chicago, L.A., and I want to help expose that there's more here beyond ArtPrize," he says. "We're here all year long, struggling and producing amazing works in art, music, and sculpture."

As far as what Edison displays, he says if it's outlaw or weird, then bring it in. Local artists to appear at the gallery have included Myke Amend, Glucose Girl, Anthony Carpenter, Joe Parsaca, Frogger, Amy TenBarge, Mark Fettig, and several others. Edison says he likes the idea of nothing in art being sacred, and the macabre, rebellious nature of the art reflects this openness. 

In addition to the gallery, his shop stocks books, clothing, and collectible designer toys. The designer toy scene is one that Edison says he was surprised hadn't worked its way into Grand Rapids counterculture yet. "They have big trading parties," he says. "The industry is massive, and most known lowbrow artists have a toy affiliation, if not their own line."

Designer toys are accessible, being sold for much lower prices than traditional art. Edison describes the "blind box format" of some lines as being akin to baseball card collecting. The buyer never knows what they're getting when they purchase a blind box. Some might be common designs, while others could be rare and collectible. Edison says he's established a clientele in Grand Rapids with his niche merchandising. 

In addition to the gallery, Edison owns a small catering company based in his hometown of Cedar Springs and continues to play music, currently working on forming a new group he describes as "dark, moody jazz." 

When asked about future plans for the space, Edison refers to the name and another former business venture, Maynard's Ice Cream and Deli. This Cedar Springs eatery featured "food to die for" and "heavenly ice cream and coffee that will wake the dead." Edison's hearse, which he used for catering and delivery, was parked out front. "It rode like a dream," Edison says. "I wish I still had it." When warmer weather approaches, Edison intends to add a counter with homemade ice cream to the gallery. 

Edison says he will also be focusing on booking more international artists and stocking his shelves with things you can't find at bigger chains. Local artists are encouraged to contact Edison for gallery placement. Ice Cream Gallery handles monthly installments. Each show opening features live music. 

"If it's weird, it's here," Edison says. "Keep an eye on us, because it's always changing. The art rotates daily, and it's always coming in constantly."

Ice Cream Gallery and Toys is open Tues-Weds, 3-9 p.m.; Thurs-Sat., 12-9 p.m.; Sunday, 12-6 p.m. Check online for upcoming events, including a benefit featuring poet John Sinclair coming up on April 5. This Saturday is the Freaky Tiki Lowbrow Luau from 8-11 p.m.

J. Bennett Rylah is the Managing Editor of Rapid Growth Media. 

Photography by Adam Bird
Product photography (last four photos) by Mary Sjaarda
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