Banner Staff Writer
Cleveland native Billie Nipper was recently chosen as the artist to create an ornament to represent Bradley County on the Christmas tree at the Tennessee governor’s mansion for 2012.
Artists representing all of the state’s 95 counties were chosen to design ornaments to be featured at the second annual “Tennessee’s Home for the Holidays" open house event.
Nipper said Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis contacted her to ask if she would represent the county after he had been contacted by Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam.
Each artist was sent a large ornament to decorate for the governor’s Christmas tree. Nipper said she took her time planning her design and getting ready to paint, but added she was able to include some of Cleveland’s most recognizable landmarks.
“I worked on it four weeks, off and on,” Nipper said. “It was fun, but it was tedious too.”
The copper-colored ornament featured three scenes of Cleveland landmarks and the county name surrounded by sparkly boughs of holly. Nipper chose to feature the Cherokee Chieftain sculpture, the United Daughters of the Confederacy Civil War monument on Ocoee Street and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
The Cherokee Chieftain was a natural choice for her because the large wooden sculpture is unique to Cleveland, Nipper said. Artist Peter Toth created similar sculptures to be housed in all 50 states, and Tennessee’s sits on the property of the Museum Center at Five Points.
The monument, topped with a statue of Cleveland namesake Col.Benjamin Cleveland, was erected in 1911 to honor Confederate veterans of the Civil War. It stands next to a monument for three men who had perished in a train accident before, said William Snell in his book “Cleveland The Beautiful.”
Nipper said she also wanted to include a church to represent the role churches play in Cleveland life, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church seemed like a good fit to her because of its history and architecture.
Once the scenes were painted, she added holly wreaths around each one. She then added some three-dimensional holly embellishments and a ribbon to finish the look.
Nipper began painting in 1976 after she and her husband married. She had decided to stay at home while her husband worked. To fill her time during the day, she purchased art supplies and decided to teach herself how to paint.
“It was trial and error — studying what I did wrong and trying to improve,” Nipper said.
One of her first finished paintings depicted a horse and was a gift for her father-in-law, who was a horse trainer. He hung the painting in his shop and had customers asking how they could get paintings of their own horses. This led to some of Nipper’s first commissioned paintings as a professional artist.
Years later, she has created many paintings and has received commissions for custom paintings from residents of every state but Hawaii. Every year, Nipper helps organize the Nillie Bipper Creative Arts Festival, an annual art event in Cleveland that features an intentionally and comically misspelled version of her name.
Many of her paintings have featured horses among various natural landscapes, but she had been wanting to branch out and feature her hometown in paint as well.
“Before I read the letter, I thought I wanted to do some things of Bradley County,” Nipper said. “I thought, ‘That works with what I want to do.’”
The tree with all the counties’ ornaments will be at the Tennessee Governor’s mansion for the Christmas open house event Dec. 3-14. Tours are free, but tickets must be reserved beforehand.
For more information, visit www.tn.gov/firstlady/holidays.shtml.