BEYOND THE GATES - Experience ‘vortex of creativity’ in Lucas, writer says
Car and motorcycle sculptures made entirely out of soda can pull tabs by artist Herman Divers are on display at the Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, Kan. Photo by: Steve Schultz, GRASSROOTS ART CENTER.
Story by: Julie Fiedler
1ST INF. DIV. POST
Editor's Note: This is the first article in a new commentary column by staff writer Julie Fiedler, Beyond the Gates. In Beyond the Gates, Julie will help Soldiers, Family members, civilians and retirees discover Kansas by highlighting local attractions, fun and easy day trips and quirky Kansas attractions.
I love roadside Americana. If there is a giant ball of twine or jackalope statue nearby, I will seek it out. But for me to drive two hours to visit a quirky attraction, the attraction has to be pretty special. Lucas, Kan., is full of attractions which are that: Special.
"(Lucas) is kind of a vortex (of) creativity," said Rosslyn Schultz, director, Grassroots Art Center, Lucas.
The sculptures, homes and even toilets make Lucas a destination worth visiting.
"We call it an all-day adventure," Schultz said.
Lucas, population of less than 500, is a two-hour drive west from Fort Riley. Located in Russell County about 20 miles north of Interstate 70 at the junction of Kansas Highways 232 and 18, Lucas is hardly a highly trafficked area. But it is home to some of the most inventive works of art you're likely to see.
CABIN HOME AND GARDEN OF EDEN
Lucas's original tourist attraction was the Cabin Home and Garden of Eden, designed and built by S.P. Dinsmoor from 1907 to 1928. Dinsmoor, a Civil War veteran, dreamed of creating a compound that was part home, part art installation. He designed and built a house, garden sculptures and mausoleum largely out of cement.
The sculptures include an eclectic mix of imagery ranging from religious to political to natural. The Cabin Home and Garden of Eden serve as Dinsmoor's reflection of and commentary on civilization. In his self-published book "Pictorial History of the Cabin Home in Garden of Eden, Lucas Kansas," Dinsmoor describes his compound as "the most unique home, for living or dead, on earth," and urges visitors to "call and see it."
And visitors have. Dinsmoor led tours around the compound himself. Today with approximately 200 sculptures and a tomb on the premises, visitors can still tour his home and yard, and behold his well-preserved, yet admittedly decaying, body.
Some of the tools Dinsmoor used to craft his home are also on display along with various personal items.
For more information on the Cabin Home and Garden of Eden, visit www.garden-of-eden-lucas-kansas.com.
FLORENCE DEEBLE ROCK GARDEN
While Dinsmoor was erecting his masterpiece, Florence Deeble was a child growing up a few blocks away. She became a high school teacher and vacationed in scenic locales around the United States. Deeble wanted to share her experiences and constructed concrete sculptures of places she had visited in her back yard.
Deeble's sculptures, which depict iconic spots like Mount Rushmore and a Native American pueblo, incorporate materials she brought back from her travels.
Her yard has become a popular destination for field trips and is known as the Florence Deeble Rock Garden.
GARDEN OF ISIS
Deeble's house was transformed into an art installation in 2002 by the artist Mri-Pilar. Pilar used repurposed trash to create a three-dimensional collage-like installation known as the Garden of Isis. Pilar lined the ceilings and walls with silver materials as a backdrop for her pieces which incorporate items like deconstructed clocks and reconfigured dolls.
Both the Florence Deeble Rock Garden and Garden of Isis are featured as part of the Grassroots Art Center tour.
GRASSROOTS ART CENTER
With encouragement from the Kansas Grassroots Art Association, the Grassroots Arts Center was founded in 1991 to help document and preserve grassroots art sites in the area.
The center acquired a collection of limestone sculptures by Inez Marshall and a team of volunteers worked to open the center's first two galleries in 1995.
The center became a haven for outsider art, which is art produced by people with no formal art education. "These are just ordinary people," Schultz said.
The collection features an eclectic mix of art made from unlikely mediums, such as sculptures made of soda can pull tabs, sculptures made out of objects found at the bottom of a lake, mobiles made from garbage, and animatronics made of wood.
Many of the outsider artists whose work is on display turned to art as a way to cope with tragedy. For them art became a means of expression, of comfort, even of obsession. Whatever their motivations, these untrained artists found possibility and a certain kind of peace in their medium and craft. Kitschy and quirky, these works are also heartfelt, which I found both touching and inspiring.
Ida Kingsbury would have ended up in obscurity were it not for the center. Her collection of yard people was salvaged from dumpsters by friends of the center after her death. Kingsbury painted figures on all kinds of objects from bird feeders to inner tubes, adding them to her yard over the course of 17 years after her husband passed away. When Ida passed away, her stepdaughters threw her figures into a dumpster. A group in Texas found the items and contacted the center. Kingsbury became the first out-of-state artist to be featured at the center.
In addition to showcasing permanent and temporary collections, the center continues to catalog grassroots sites around the country with a file for every state.
Tourists can call the center to find sites of yard art in various places, as well as to report sites of yard art for cataloging.
The center also serves as a catalyst for budding outsider artists. "People come to visit and they go home and say, 'gee, I think I can do something like that in my yard,' so it kind of inspires people," Schultz said.
For more information on Florence Deeble, the Garden of Isis and the Grassroots Art Center, visit grassrootsart.net.
THE FLYING PIG
Eric Abraham is a porcelain artist with a studio and gallery called the Flying Pig. Abraham is a trained artist with a flair for the whimsical. His creations include "funtastical porcelain works of art which will amaze and amuse," according to his website.
Smaller pieces depicting animals and robots are displayed alongside larger pieces like a vanity featuring a dream-like cloudscape. His three-dimensional drawings adorn the walls of his studio, which is adjacent to a gallery area displaying works by other artists. For more information on Eric Abraham, visit www.ericabraham.net.
Erika Nelson is an artist and educator with a penchant for roadside attractions. Her traveling exhibit – the World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things – is a crowning jewel for Americana lovers.
Miniature replicas of large roadside attractions are housed in a festively painted van. A "giant" ball of twine, baseball bat, and badger, each measuring only a few inches tall, are displayed in the WLCoWSVoWLT collection. The mobile museum also includes miniature renditions of unique attractions like Carhenge of Alliance, Neb.
Nelson also offers workshops on various topics including sculpting with alternative materials like potted meat and plastic bags. For more information on Erika Nelson, visit www.worldslargestthings.com.
A tiny town that attracts a relatively large number of tourists needed a public restroom. Rather than address the gaping hole as a public works project, the people of Lucas approached it as a public art project.
Several artists were commissioned to design portions of the potties, which are housed in a structure itself designed to look like a toilet. From a giant roll of toilet paper made out of cement, to a flush swirl made of porcelain, to intricate mosaics adorning the bathroom walls, the building is indeed a work of art.
"You can't forget that (toilet)," Schultz said.
BRANT'S MEAT MARKET
By the time you've visited several of the sights, you may have worked up an appetite. Brant's Meat Market is worth a stop for delicious handcrafted bologna and sausages.
Doug Brant is the third generation of the family to run the market, which was founded in 1922. Doug offers tastes of his delicacies to visitors as well as tips on things to see in the area.
Try some of his renowned Czechoslovakian ring bologna or sample a cheese. For more information on Brant's, call 785-525-6464.
'UNIQUE AND DIFFERENT'
Sprinkled among these quirky attractions are the Fork Art outdoor display and a giant souvenir plate, any one of which would make Lucas an interesting destination for a day trip. However, the combination of these unusual attractions, the colorful artists and the community that embraced them are what make Lucas so special.
"It's all very unique and different," Schultz said.
Lucas was named one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas Art and was designated as the Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas.
ART CAPITAL OF KANSAS
Founded in 1887, Lucas is still largely a farming community. But it's also a rare gem, a ruby in the heart of Kansas that, if you visit, will likely have you saying "there's no place like Lucas."
For more information on Lucas, visit skyways.lib.ks.us/towns/Lucas.