As an adolescent, Bob Nipp hankered for three aspirations in life. As an adult, he nipped ’em all in the bud.
He became an artist, he married a girl that looked like the raven-haired beauty on the Sun-Maid Raisins box and he got a horse.
Along the way he also notched a fourth yearning of sorts — to be a cowboy.
“I knew in the first grade that I wanted to paint. I’ve always drawn all my life,” Nipp said. “When I was in high school, I took an aptitude test. It came back that I was suited to be an artist or a forest ranger. I realized that’s what I really want to do: be an artist and have a horse ranch.
“And I also wanted to marry someone who looked like the girl on the front of the red Sun-Maid Raisins box. And sure enough my wife resembles her. So, I accomplished the three things I wanted most.”
Born in Tullahoma in 1942, Nipp moved with his family to Nashville when he was 1 and then moseyed on to Donelson where he began the first grade and would graduate from Donelson High School in 1960. Pursuing his dream to be a painter, he attended the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Fla., and Middle Tennessee State College (now MTSU) before snaring a degree in advertising and commercial art at the Memphis Academy of Arts in 1965.
After serving in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve on a buoy tender in the Gulf of Mexico for 18 months, he returned to Nashville and joined Savage, Kerr and McMillan Advertising Agency and also tied the wedding knot with Linda Wright, who, in his eyes, looked a lot like the Sun-Maid Raisins lass.
Queried as to what attracted her to Bob when they were courting, Linda said, “I just liked his sense of humor and personality, and the fact that he was an artist was good for me. He was just a good person and somebody you could trust. We’ve been married 52 years now. I guess it’s worked.”
She also confessed that one of the first things he told her was that she looked like the girl on the raisin box.
“I did have long, dark hair,” she said.
Nipp’s professional career
Bob’s commercial career carried him to National Life Insurance and to the Buntin Agency, but he found his sweet spot with friend and fellow artist David Wright (not related to Nipp’s wife) when they formed Nova Group Advertising and became part of the Studio Six design group, leading to a 30-year career in advertising.
In the midst of his adventures in advertising, Nipp, and his pal, David, and other kindred artists got into limited-edition paintings and launched Gray Stone Press. Later, Bob and Linda launched Raintree Graphics and opened art galleries in Franklin, Nashville and Brentwood.
The inventive wizard still practiced the art of advertising and not only worked with brushes and paints but also used computers to concoct a digitalized Bear Show in Gatlinburg Place, which led him to compose Country Crossroads, a tourist attraction that animated the history of country music.
Galloping onward, he created the corporate logo for Opryland and designed elements for the famed Nashville theme park as well as for Beech Bend Park and Camping World.
“I’m sort of a jack-of-all-trades,” said Nipp, to say the least. “I always loved horses and grew up on a farm, but I never had a horse. We had a mule. So, when I was 49, I decided it was time to buy me a horse. So, I bought one for myself and one for my wife.”
Linda was not exactly thrilled about the idea.
“He went up with a friend to Kentucky and saw a horse he really liked, and there was a companion horse with him, a mare. He called me and said he was thinking about getting a blonde or a red convertible or a horse, and I was to choose. I chose the horse,” Linda said. “Some of our best memories are trail riding together on Dakota and Callie.”
The horsey transaction occurred soon after the couple inherited a farm in Mt. Juliet from Linda’s side of the family. The century farm, which dates back to the 1880s, had been the site of Central Pike Dairy, operated by Linda’s grandfather, Dr. Lee Wright, who was a real country doctor for 50 years in the community then known as Dodoburg.
“We took over the farm in 1991 and started Blue Lake Ranch. I built the horse barn and started boarding horses in 1992. We’ve been boarding horses for almost 28 years,” Nipp said.
Nipp’s artistic career
In the midst of his career, he and David Wright got into buckskinning, which led him to the Mountain Man Rendezvous, a celebration of frontiersmen who made trapping their way of life.
“I took photographs and came back and made paintings from them. I also do wildlife paintings and sometimes do portraits,” said Nipp, who estimates he splits his time between Western art and wildlife.
“David and I did some work for Mowrey (a company that made muzzleloaders and replica rifles) and got paid with their guns. We shared the work with other artist friends and from that we started the Tennessee Long Hunters.
“Rather than paint realistic paintings, I do more of a stylized version of Western art. I may take a lot of things and put them together. I primarily work in oil and acrylics. I try to tell a story with it.”
In one of his pieces, titled “Easy Now”, he depicts a big bull with a bandana tied around one of its wicked curving horns. A tag in the critter’s ear bears the number 13, and a gloved hand extends toward the cloth.
Nipp explained, “I have a man reaching for a bandana with his hand, but you don’t see his face. The number 13 is on the tag of bull so you know it’s bad. It’s sort of a story.
“I like to paint horses but I do about anything. One of the hardest paintings I had to do was of a black Angus bull. It’s very difficult to paint something solid black, but this couple loved it so much that when they got divorced, they had a big argument about who got to keep it.”
Nipp completes three to four paintings a year and spends 200 or more hours per painting. Sometimes he will let one sit for six months before he comes back to paint more on it.
His Blue Ranch Gallery has three rooms filled with his work of cowboys, American Indians and creatures of the wild. Viewing appointments may be arranged by calling. His artwork is priced from several hundred dollars apiece up to $15,000.
“I paint oil paintings at the house and do the acrylics here because I’m set up in separate ways,” he said of his work habits.
In the farmhouse studio, he paints while seated in an 1800s wheelchair that he spied while at an estate sale with his wife.
“There was a woman sitting in it, and I asked her if it was for sale and she said yes. I asked how much and she said $50. I took it home and put in on the back porch. Then I brought it over here. I can sit in it and paint and roll back and forth without having to get up,” Nipp said.
Currently on his easel resides a work in progress of a great blue heron, a big bird he photographed at Fate Sanders Boat Dock on Percy Priest Lake.
One of his completed works, titled “Duke and the Big Wheel” shows a cowboy reclining against the wheel of a chuck wagon with a cup of coffee in his hands as a dog stares up at the man.
“Duke is not the cowboy but the name of the dog,” Nipp shared. “Duke was my pet for 15 years. He was half German shepherd and half coyote. I found him on a snowy day. He was a pup sitting on top of a dead cow.”
About his painting, “Sunday’s Best” an observer eyeballs a cowboy leaning on a split-rail fence with his saddled horse close by. In the background is a country church house and on the horizon stretches a mountain range.
Nipp brought together six elements to compile this painting: photographs he took of the cowboy, one of his own horses, a fence on his farm, a church in California, the San Juan Mountains in Ouray, Colo., and the saddle, which he bought 25 years ago in Gunnison, Colo.
“That saddle is an 1890s slick fork saddle with a high candle in the back. You get in this saddle, it’s hard for a horse to dump you out it,” said Nipp, as he lets a bit of the cowboy in him slip through.
As for his saddle partner along many happy trails, Linda sums up their adventures saying, “It’s never been dull. We traveled a lot of places and have done a lot of things and raised our daughter and had a good life. I don’t think I would change anything.”
BLUE LAKE RANCH GALLERY
The works of artist Bob Nipp may be seen by appointment by calling (615) 754-4992. The award-winning painter specializes in Western and wildlife paintings and also is available for commissions from individuals and organizations. He and his wife board horses on their century farm at 8960 Central Pike in Mt. Juliet. For details, go to robertnipp.com