Into the Mindfield
If you find yourself in downtown Brownsville, you might notice what looks like a large power station towering over Main Street. Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that this immense structure is actually a grand work of art. A complex array of salvaged steel beams, trusses and even railroad tracks painted a monotone battleship grey cover nearly half an acre of land, and at 127 feet tall, Billy Tripp’s Mindfield is the largest work of art in Tennessee.
Tripp was born in Jackson, TN and grew up in Brownsville, TN. He was drawn to metalworking, and eventually enrolled in a trade school. Though he didn’t last the semester, he kept the textbook from his welding class and taught himself a few things. He gained his metalworking skills from advice of welders and through trial and error. In 1977, when Tripp’s mother, Mabel, passed away, he began his Mindfield project in the form of a book. The Mindfield Years, a 725-page semi-autobiographical novel, is written in a stream of consciousness style, and Tripp describes it as a difficult read, “It talks about how someone who would later work on The Mindfield came to be and my early life. It's a difficult read I know, and most people have understandably given up on it, but the best story I can tell in words is there, if one really wants to know it”.
Tripp began building the Mindfield in 1989 and continues to add to it even today. The colorful water tower was moved from Arlington, KY in 2002 and reads, “The Mindfield Cemetery – ‘a life of one’ – in Honor of Mom + Dad”. Tripp insists his Mindfield wasn’t built for an audience, to be understood or appreciated. For him, it is a conversation with himself, a form of expression that is uniquely his. “I didn’t make it big for others to see it. I made it big so I could see it. I want it to talk back to me”.
Stepping into the Mindfield is like stepping into Billy Tripp’s mind. Near the street, colorful signs and painted benches contrast the grey of the structure. They include what Tripp describes as “guidelines” for his own life, along with random sayings and objects left behind from the car wash Tripp owns. Areas of the main structure represent events, periods and emotions from Tripp’s life - including a basketball goal from his childhood, the handprints of his brothers and the canoe of one of his favorite authors, William Least Heat-Moon carefully placed pointing towards the word “Begin”. Suspended amongst the steel beams are messages in metal letters, reading, “What I have to make Be it from What is here” and “What I have to share Be it through My work”. The Mindfield is truly a representation of the creative mind; the more time you spend examining and exploring, the more beauty you’ll find.