By Special Correspondent Richard Noggle
People make the pilgrimage to Truckhenge from all over the world. Well, from all over the world except for the Topeka and Lawrence art scenes. Those people tend to steer well clear. Or so claims Ron Lessman.
This is one of the many (no doubt well-rehearsed) complaints you’re likely to hear if you visit Ron’s odd and fascinating art-filled farm in rural Topeka. You’ll also hear a lot about the evils of the local government and the various corporations who have tried to push him off his land. Make sure he tells the story about driving away city officials by blasting 2 Live Crew on “eight giant speakers.” (He may also show you the speakers and sing you a bit of the particular tune).
On my recent afternoon at Truckhenge, I got the feeling that Ron rather enjoys playing up the crackpot persona (“Best review I ever had,” he tells me, “was a woman from London who said that I was the craziest fuckin’ person she ever met but that my farm was an absolute must-see.”). Yet after spending an hour with Ron traversing the grounds, I came to think of him not as a raving madman but more as a playful and prolific and often sweet artist who’s genuinely happy to show his work to anyone who seems interested and makes the effort to seek it out.
The whole thing IS a little intimidating, though, at first. With the aid of Google Maps I rolled up on a gravel road to a locked gate and sat in the car while Ron and three friendly (but not friendly-looking) dogs loped up to greet me. Technically one needs to make an appointment to visit, but I was unannounced and after a brief interview of sorts (perhaps ascertaining if I was city or government-affiliated?) Ron invited me to pull into the drive and offered to give me the grand tour.
The most well-known aspect of the farm is, of course, Truckhenge, where a collection of semi-truck cabs have been planted upright, rooted by massive concrete foundations. If I followed Ron’s explanation (which is not always easy, as he talks fast and furious), Truckhenge is the result of him being told by the county, somewhere around 2000, that a mighty flood was coming and his old trucks might well float down the river and “wipe out Lawrence like torpedos.” The county demanded that he must “pick them up.” So he “picked them up”…and planted them in concrete as a big screw-you.
The story seems to well-illustrate two characteristics of Ron’s art: resistance and playfulness. “We’re just trying to have some fun out here” was a constant refrain on our journey that afternoon, which covered the following (and more):
Boathenge: similar to Truckhenge, but with boats.
The trees of “lost soles”: trees full of shoes hanging from branches.
Beer Bottle City: art made with beer bottles, including an effort to recreate the “monolith” from Kubrick’s 2001.
A collection of ancient animal bones housed in (I think) a train car.
His chainsaw carvings, many of which seem to be based on films (Halloween, Nightmare Before Christmas, a random alien that Kirk encounters in one of the Star Trek movies)
And, finally, Ron’s house, where he’s pulled a “reverse Sistine chapel” and painted the floor with a picture of a woman painting a floor: very meta.
By the time I left later that afternoon I had even met Ron’s wife (inside the more “normal” part of the house, a friendly woman, quietly washing dishes) and been given a lucky feather from one of the peacocks that roam the grounds along with the dogs.
Truckhenge is only thirty minutes away but, really, it is worlds removed from a Final Friday art walk in Lawrence, Kansas. And all the better for it. Ron wants you to visit.