Folk-art installation known as Truckhenge grows near Topeka
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A couple's spat with county officials has led to a folk-art installation that draws about 2,000 visitors each year to their fourth-generation family farm on the outskirts of Topeka.
It began when Shawnee County officials told Ron and Linda Lessman the rusty trucks on their property were a hazard because the Lessmans live in a floodplain, the Kansas City Star reported. But instead of moving them, Ron Lessman sank the trucks in concrete and dubbed them Truckhenge. When there were complaints about some nonfunctioning boats, along came Boathenge.
The Lessmans' troubles with the county have subsided, but the artistic impulse hasn't. Ron Lessman's latest project is fencing festooned with fake Christmas tree branches, called the "Wall of Lame" and dedicated to arts organizations in Topeka that, so far, have declined his invitations to view his creations.
But others have shown, including a TV crew from Sweden, PBS' "Rare Visions and Roadside Attractions" and the reality show "Sister Wives."
Truckhenge also was named a Kaw Region Art Park by Shawnee County Recycling and Preservation Association. It has its own webpages at KansasTravel.org and VisitTopeka.com.
Former state Sen. Ann Mah, who brokered a meeting in 2006 between the Lessmans and city and county officials to try to diffuse tensions, said she is pleased Topeka is realizing Lessman is a "jewel in the rough."
Rosslyn Schultz, director of Grassroots Arts Center in Lucas, has visited Truckhenge several times and said Lessman is part of a surprisingly large concentration of self-taught artists in Kansas -- the state is third behind California and Wisconsin in number of "yard environments," defined as a yard with 100 or more objects on display.
Truckhenge's closest in-state kin is the Garden of Eden in Lucas, which features the peculiar work of S.P. Dinsmoor. The retired schoolteacher and Civil War veteran sculpted 113 tons of concrete into various religious and political figures in his backyard.
But Lessman's intent sets his work apart from artists who use vintage bowling balls or two-liter pop bottles.
"Ron is one of two in the state that are very political in that they run up against the establishment quite often and have to hold their own," Schultz said. "He is really more of a grassroots activist. I applaud him.
"How many of us could stay true to a vision when we ran up against roadblock after roadblock? But he doesn't give up."