Located in the heart of central Kansas’ rugged Post Rock Country, Lucas attracts thousands of curious visitors each year. Most are drawn by the lure of S.P. Dinsmoor’s iconic Garden of Eden, then discover so many other sites of interest that they devote half a day or more to Lucas. In this blog, as lengthy as it is, I haven’t even covered all the sights.
GRASSROOTS ART CENTER
I like to start a Lucas visit at the Grassroots Art Center, a museum dedicated to collecting and preserving the creations of eccentric and talented, yet untrained artists. Some call these works outsider art, some call it trash art or roadside art, art brut, primitive art, raw art, and on and on. Many of these artists just create for the fun of making something unique, while some use their craft for serious social or political commentary.
There is a surprise around each corner at the Grassroots Art Center. Since 1995, Director Rosslyn Schultz and her volunteers have been assembling a wide variety of artworks created from a virtual “garbage dump” of materials/media: nutshells, chewing gum (used of course), computer parts, rocks, barbie dolls, or aluminum can pull-tops.
This two-seater car was made entirely of aluminum can pull-tabs by Herman Divers
of Topeka, Kansas.
Above is a portion of the display of “totem pole art” done by M.T. Liggett
of Mullinville, Kansas. Hundreds of these scrap metal art works line his property along US Highway 400 on either side of Mullinville. From personal experience, I can relate that Liggett is every bit the cantankerous old coot his art would lead you to believe. (Liggett is one of the folks featured in a recently released documentary film, “What’s Wrong With Kansas?”)
[Note – The Grassroots Art Center is open during winter months, but with an abbreviated schedule. Be certain to check their schedule before loading the kiddies into the SUV.]
GARDEN OF EDEN
This is where it all started – Lucas’ grassroots art movement, that is. Samuel P. Dinsmoor, a retired school teacher, Civil War veteran, farmer, Free Mason, free-thinker and Populist politician came to Lucas from Ohio. In 1907, at the age of 64, he began constructing his limestone “log cabin” and the first of his 50 ideology-espousing, concrete sculptures which became a profitable attraction even before their completion 23 years later. That is not say it was always popular with neighbors while he lived.
Adam and Eve in the Garden with the serpent and the fruit of knowledge.
The death of Abel.
Care to view Mr. Dinsmoor, himself? Macabre as it might seem to some, that is another of the attractions at the Garden of Eden. His mummified remains may be seen through the glass top of his coffin, which rests inside the immense mausoleum he built in the corner of his garden.
FLORENCE DEEBLE’S ROCK GARDEN
As a little girl, Florence Deeble watched with amazement as her neighbor, Mr. Dinsmoor, built those fascinating images. Decades later, as a retired high school teacher, she created her own concrete environment, remembering favorite places from her travels. Many of the rocks in her garden were collected in 50 years of travels.
Readers interested in viewing more photos of these rock gardens might wish to check out
Dave Leiker’s excellent images at
GARDEN OF ISIS
After Florence Deeble’s death, the home and rock garden became the property of the Grassroots Art Center. The house itself remained empty prior to the unexpected arrival of visionary artist Mri-Pilar, who has created one of the most surprising places in the entire state. After covering the walls and ceilings of seven rooms with a silver insulating material, Mri-Pilar began filling those spaces with numerous small pieces assembled from recycled materials of every type, most notably discarded Barbie Dolls and computer mother boards.
[Note – Florence’s Rock Garden and the Garden of Isis are included with admission to the Grassroots Art Center.]
ERIC ABRAHAM’S FLYING PIG STUDIO & GALLERY
Eric Abraham is the World Renowned Professional Professor of Porkelain Proficiency. Most of his work is in porcelain, but if you are thinking Hummel or Lladró or Precious Moments figurines, do a mental control-alt-delete and start again from scratch. My own introduction to his inventive art was this past fall, while leading a group of friends on a tour of Lucas. Mr. Abraham was out of town, but had left a key to the gallery/studio with the folks at the Grassroots Art Center. What fun we had!
Unlike the majority of grassroots artists represented in Lucas, Eric Abraham is a degreed, “classically-trained,” highly-skilled, master artist and craftsman. In common with the “outsider artists” of Lucas, his work can be described as inventive, off-beat, witty, etc. Rather than waste further space in a vain attempt to describe his creations, I’ll post a couple of photos and recommend that you visit the Flying Pig Gallery.
Friends Jolene and Howard in mirror.
AMERICAN FORK ART
There once was an empty lot next to the Ford dealership on the main street. Empty until Mri-Pilar dreamed up the idea of filling it with American Fork Art (yes, fork, not folk art) in the spot, and a new “sub-genre” of outsider art took hold in Lucas. Folks all over town began sticking forks in things. In addition to a fork art gallery, the good folks in town are now constructing a new public restroom in that lot for all the visitors. I can’t wait to see what that will be like!
BRANT’S MEAT MARKET
I now have a new respect for bologna, realizing what it is like to eat the real thing, not the pre-packaged stuff we buy in the super market. Brant’s Meat Market has been in business for 88 years in Lucas. Signature products are the smoked bacon, smoked home-made sausage, and their own Czech-style ring bologna. (We purchased some of the ring bologna, but not nearly enough.) Third generation owner Doug Brant will proudly tell you about the store’s history and products or discuss the advantages of small-town life.
THE WORLD’S LARGEST COLLECTION OF THE WORLD’S SMALLEST VERSIONS OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST THINGS
I first viewed this attraction at the Belger Art Center in Kansas City’s Crossroads District, part of a temporary exhibition of “Detour Art.” Or maybe it was on public television’s “Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations.” Anyway, if this mobile collection is not on the road, it can be seen in the Lucas back yard of its creator and curator, Erika Nelson. That just happens to be next door to Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden. Read more about this traveling roadside attraction and museum at: www.worldslargestthings.com/
. While there, take a look at the “chairy” tree, and if you are extra-fortunate you might just catch sight of her demons vehicle.
WORLD’S LARGEST TRAVEL SOUVENIR PLATE
Located a the south edge of town on state highway K-18, across the road from Lucas International Airport. It’s made from a 14 foot, decommissioned satellite dish, another Erika Nelson, this one commissioned by the Grassroots Art Center.
ALSO IN THE AREA
If you are making a weekend out of your visit, or just want a change of pace from the mind-bending art you’ve seen, here are a couple of ideas. Those who have driven to Lucas from the south (K-232 to K-18), have already been on the Post Rock Scenic Byway
, with a rugged beauty which surprises those accustomed to only seeing Kansas from the nearby interstate. Get off the road and visit Wilson Lake
, as well. It has great fishing, camping, water sports, and hiking trails through the rocky hills…. Shop for quality artwork, crafts and Kansas souvenirs at Kansas Originals
, at the south end of the Post Rock Scenic Byway, where it intersects with I-70…. Just a few miles further to the south is Wilson
, the Czech Capital of Kansas. In spite of the recent tragic fire which destroyed its historic opera house, Wilson has several sites of interest including the hotel where scenes of the movie “Paper Moon” were filmed, and a unique round, native limestone jail building.
WHERE TO STAY
If your trip to Lucas and surrounding attractions includes an over-night stay, there are several lodging options, including several motels in nearby Russell and the highly-rated Stone Cottage Farm along the Post Rock Scenic Byway. Camp sites available at beautiful Lake Wilson State Park.
I can personally recommend the Simple Haven Bed and Breakfast (shown left) in Wilson, sixteen miles south of Lucas and close to the interstate. The 1886 limestone farmhouse is a charming B&B operated by Joe and Susan Curtiss. Quaint, but modern and comfy rooms, reasonable prices, and a full home-made breakfast, including Susan’s amazing, baked apple-cinnamon french toast.