A 65-foot-tall grain bin serves as the latest canvas for the University of Tennessee System’s 46-feet-high by 66-feet-wide mural aimed at educating Tennesseans on the significant impact the university has across the state.
The “Everywhere You Look, UT” mural was celebrated today in Sharon just seven miles south of the UT Martin campus. The grain bin is owned by Robinson & Belew Inc., a family-run business founded in 1950 that ships corn, soybeans and wheat around the world.
“I thought this was something that we could do to help UT and help UT Martin and just give back a little bit,” said Keith Fowler, president of Robinson & Belew, who, along with his wife Linda Robinson Fowler, is a 1985 graduate of UT Martin.
As the company’s history goes, Bob Robinson established a small business selling strawberries and coal near the railroad tracks in Sharon, Tennessee, during the first half of the 20th century. He used the railroad to ship sweet potato slips throughout the United States. In 1950, he purchased the Sharon Feed Mill with his partner and brother-in-law, A.L. Belew, and Robinson & Belew Grain was born. Robinson’s son, Robert Dean “R.D.” Robinson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the UT Martin in 1961, expanded the business even further.
The Robinson family boasts three generations of UT Martin ties beginning with R.D. and including his sister, Betty Robinson Eddings (’72); his wife, Dianne Palmer Robinson (‘71); the Fowlers, and two of the Fowlers’ three children: Chris in 2012 and Rachel in 2015. R.D. and Dianne Robinson recently established the R.D. and Dianne Robinson Agriculture Scholarship for students attending UT Martin. Fowler’s father, Larry Fowler, also graduated from UT in 1960 and his mother, Mary Fowler, worked at the UT Martin bookstore for 33 years.
“UT Martin means a lot to me and my family, and it plays a vital role in our community,” Fowler said. So, when (the University of Tennessee) asked (to paint the mural), I thought it was something we definitely wanted to be a part of to help promote UT and UT Martin.”
UT System Interim President Randy Boyd said during his time leading UT, he’s learned how the university serves Tennesseans across the state.
“I realized everywhere you look, there’s UT,” Boyd said. “Having murals all across the state will help reinforce the message. People will see the murals and then realize, ‘You know, they’re right. Everywhere you look, I do see UT.’”
Plus, there’s another aspect of the mural that excites Boyd.
“My family is from West Tennessee and so having a mural in West Tennessee, about 30 miles from where my ancestors all grew up, including my father, is pretty cool,” he said.
The mural site is about 500 feet from US-45E with unobstructed visibility from the highway. Information compiled by the Tennessee Department of Transportation estimates annual average daily traffic counts total 5,385—thus, it’s possible the mural will be seen by as many as 1.9 million people a year.
UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said the mural will be a powerful statement of the Fowler family’s belief in the university and its impact across Tennessee to all who pass.
“Oftentimes when we think about higher education, we think about a campus or we think about a building, but having it in a rural area, in an agrarian community, on the side of a huge grain bin, it’s just a reminder that UT is not just on a campus, but it’s in the communities, it’s in our farms, it’s helping transportation,” Carver said.
The Robinson and Belew grain bin is the second installment of the UT System statewide marketing campaign. In August 2018, the first mural was painted on a water tower in the heart of downtown Knoxville on a property owned by Boyd.
The water tower—overlooking Jackson Avenue just east of the Old City and is visible from I-40 and Hall of Fame Boulevard—catches the attention of every passerby and yields an estimated 6.4 million impressions a year. The mural is approximately 15 feet wide by 30 feet high.
The UT System continues to look for high-traffic, high-visibility properties for future mural campaigns. Preferred locations include Tennessee interstates, highways and waterways, or nestled in the center of town. For more information and to submit ideas for other locations, please visit everywhere.tennessee.edu/murals/campaign.