Old friend Franklin Jones told me about a Jackson Sun piece on Brownsville’s Billy Tripp, the greatest practitioner of outsider art in the state. Tripp created his Mind Field, a seven-story steel structure incorporating found objects such as a fire tower and various symbols that represent periods of his life and tributes to other people. It is the largest work of art in Tennessee, and it grows bigger every week.
Billy Tripp is a piece of work himself. I first got to know him when working on an early edition of Tennessee Handbook and I came under the influence of the mayor of Brownsville, Webb Banks. “You have got to see this guy,” said the mayor, who took the first photos of Mind Field that were published in my book.
Billy lives in a welding shop behind his masterpiece, which sits on the main drag in downtown Brownsville. He usually has time to chat with visitors and explain his creation. Right beside Mind Field is a mansion in which Billy grew up, the son of a local preacher. He is the brother of Charlie Tripp, who owns Tripp Country Hams, also located in Brownsville.
Mind Field is to West Tennessee as Watts Towers are to Los Angeles. Billy was able to build it because of a benevolent mayor who appreciates art and understands how it can bring visitors to small town. I hope that Brownsville’s future city leaders will continue that enlightened approach.
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