Back Story: Artists transform Winnebago into man cave

On a blustery Saturday a few days before Christmas, the thirsty and the simply curious took a break from their last-minute shopping and headed to the Union Brewing Co. in Woodberry.

There they took in a whimsical man cave on wheels that has been assembled from a vintage 1975 Winnebago Indian D-23 Sport Edition. It is the brainchild of two Baltimore artists, Chris Attenborough and Sean Naftel.


The two artists, both graduates of the Burren College of Art in Galway, Ireland, have been "creating interventionist installations and events in the U.S. and Ireland since 2008," said Attenborough, who grew up in Anneslie and still lives there.

"The installations democratize aesthetics to activate the space and engage the viewer, often unknowingly, to become a participant," said Attenborough, who explained that their man cave is a venue before, during and after a sporting event.


People were more than willing to activate the space. They milled about the vehicle, sipping plastic cups of Pregame Session, the brewery's newest ale, which flowed from the van's curbside tap. They ate hot dogs and hamburgers prepared on the van's two Weber grills, which are affixed to a rear deck when traveling, and unloaded and fired up upon reaching an event site. This event was free.

Attenborough, an adjunct faculty member at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he teaches photography, and Naftel, who is a museum exhibition installer, have seen their earlier nonvehicular interventions featured at Artscape, the Contemporary Museum and the inaugural (e)merge Art Fair in Washington as well as other venues.

Attenborough, who also works part time as a bartender at Grand Cru in Belvedere Square, said they wanted to do something with a Winnebago after conducting extensive research into the tailgating culture at the Ravens' stadium.

"Tailgating does not need to be for a particular type of event. It is about pregaming, about building anticipation and about creating a social venue for discussion of the main event," he said.

They found the Winnebago of their dreams with the body style they wanted in Washington County, up near Pen Mar, but then its owner stalled on the sale.

"He said he had conditions, and the big one was that it couldn't be painted like a hippie van," said Attenborough, who with Naftel finally purchased it for $3,500.

The two men then applied their hands and know-how to the conversion. They overhauled the motor, exhaust and electrical systems before turning their attention to fixing its seams and installing drywall in the interior.

"And we learned plenty along the way," said Attenborough. He estimates they spent $5,000 on the project, which required a year of gutting and then reconfiguring the interior before it was finished in the fall.


Step aboard what the two men have christened their "Tailgate ManCave," which in many ways is a sybarite's paradise, offering many amenities.

The cozy space has hardwood floors, an entertainment unit and a library, and also carries lawn games. It features a sound system for entertainment and a flat-screen TV to watch the game in comfort.

A comfortable L-shaped sofa and several tables beckon the visitor to pause and fill a glass with Grand Marnier, Stolichnaya, Paddy or Jack Daniels from the bar, and look out the window while relaxing or chatting with friends. There is an indoor beer tap for those who want to avoid the hard stuff, as well as a coffee maker.

Decorative touches are minimal. They include a mounted buck's head on the wall, along with several skateboards that presumably can be removed and used, and maritime-style light fixtures.

"Fun is and was a huge part of it," said Attenborough, who quickly added that their Tailgate ManCave is unique: They are not going to be in the business of building and selling them, as they are already thinking about their next artistic undertaking.

They do not rent what they call their "free piece of art," but it will appear at art institutions, malls and sporting events.


"Yet this piece, like most of our work, only comes to life once the participants arrive," said Attenborough.

They also kept to their promise of not painting it in colors that would please a 1960s-era Haight-Ashbury hippie or Ken Kesey and his "Merry Pranksters," who crossed the country in the 1960s in "Further," their multicolored bus.