Folk Artists vs. the State

Truckhenge, Bishop Castle, the Garden of Eden, and the anti-authoritarianism of outsider art.

  • Ron Lessman’s Truckhenge near Topeka, Kansas.
    Photo by Jake Belucci/
  • Bishop Castle in Wetmore, Colorado, has been a work in progress since Jim Bishop began building it in 1969.
    Photo by Chris Waits/

Hanging a painting in your living room isn't likely to inspire a visit from the county zoning board. You may get away with a collection of garden gnomes in your front yard, especially if you live in the countryside. But start artistically upending antique trucks in your lawn or constructing a 16-story stone castle and you're almost certain to find yourself mummified in red tape.

"Art environments" like these exist all around America, created by people who have no formal training and thus are considered "grassroots," "folk," or "outsider" artists. And a lot of these artists have an anti-authoritarian bent-sometimes because they're naturally inclined that way, sometimes because the local authorities just won't leave them alone.

Approaching the two stone towers of Bishop Castle that stretch above the Rocky Mountain pines, you'll see one of many hand-painted signs clustered near a full-sized portcullis and drawbridge:


An additional sign features a brief list of commonsense rules, including "Children must be with an adult" and "No climbing on the sand pile." The rest reads: "You are welcome if you agree with everything. IF NOT NO TRESPASSING! In my opinion unreasonable & unfair laws force me to write this sign. By my hard earned power, Jim Bishop (castle builder)."

These are some of the milder signs posted around Bishop's 160-foot castle in the rural town of Wetmore, Colorado. He began building the structure back in 1969, and now wrought-iron cages, swooping spiral staircases, and a fire-breathing dragon's head loom over the trees. The 2.5-acre property is isolated, bordered by National Forest on three sides. Bishop says his creation will be finished when he's dead.

7/3/2016 2:34:31 AM

somewhere in central northern Illinois stands a massive 'wall' of motorcycle wheels (minus the tires...maybe) all welded together and rusting gracefully (?) in the middle of a fallow agricultural acreage, alongside a local, county, state highway. being a motorcyclist, my presumption was something along the lines of disgruntled insurance agent or maybe just an individual taking a personal stand against because of kinship severe injury or worse as a result of owning / riding one.

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