Knoxville – The University of Tennessee System will add Sparta to its growing list of mural locations with its 30th mural of the “Everywhere You Look, UT” campaign.
Painting begins today on a shed at Johnson Farm, owned by Rena and the late Bill Johnson. When completed, the 80-foot-wide mural will be visible to the 2,907 travelers passing by each day on Roberts-Matthews Highway.
“Having one of these murals just seemed like the natural thing for us to do,” said Rena. “Bill would be so excited to see it.”
The Johnsons have deep ties to both UT and agriculture. Bill was a UT Knoxville football standout—the 1957 team co-captain, an SEC All-American guard and Academic All-American—and later served many years on the UT Board of Trustees. The couple met at UT Knoxville. Shortly after they married, they returned to Sparta where Bill took over his family farm.
The Johnson Farm has been passed down for multiple generations, granting it the status of Century Farm. Today, the farm—owned by Rena and leased out to two local farmers who handle the operations—has been owned by the family for almost 130 years.
The Johnsons’ three daughters spent their childhoods helping on the farm and learning to love UT from their parents’ example. Today, all three are graduates of UT Knoxville.
“I never felt pressured to go there,” said Cynthea Amason, the eldest Johnson daughter. “It just seemed like it was part of the fabric of our family.”
The Johnsons’ motto is “It is better to give than to receive.” They spent much of their lives quietly giving their time and money to those in need and to organizations to which they felt connected.
“My father always took the position that he could never repay the University for what it gave him,” said Cathryn Rolfe, the Johnsons’ daughter. “I think he felt the same way about the farm—that his ancestors provided him with the foundations of this farm, and he could never repay them for the gift that it gave to our family. Those two things—the University and the farm—are very integral to all our lives.”
To learn more about the UT campaign, each location and to nominate a canvas for use, visit the campaign website. UT plans to paint one mural in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties by 2030.
505 Summer Place, UT Tower #1236, Knoxville, TN 37902
505 Summer Place, UT Tower #1241A, Knoxville, TN 37902