Grassroots art – eccentric work by self-taught, prolific everyday folks (ranchers, farmers, welders, homemakers) – is everywhere in the out-of–the-way northwestern Kansas town of Lucas. it is actually fitting that art that is so “out there” should be way out here, far from the mainstream of most things, including the art world.
This was probably my 5th trip to Lucas in over 30 years and there is more to see each visit. The main draw is the remarkable Garden of Eden, a bizarre sculpture garden with giant concrete representations of populis themes — my favorite is one of a farmer being crucified by the banker, lawyer and doctor. And then there’s the giant limestone and concrete ziggurat looking mausoleum where you can peer into the coffin of the civil war veteran S.P. Dinsmoor who built the garden. (He is looking moldy these days, which our guide explained was due to a crack in the sheet of glass in front of the coffin, which let air in. it has been fixed but not before substantial damage.)
The garden and house — also a work of oddness, made of limestone logs — sits on an otherwise normal Kansas small town street, which is part of the charm and shock effect. But the garden and its sculptures in particular have never looked better after a recent massive multi-million dollar restoration funded by the Kohler Foundation ( from the Bath works company in Wisconsin).
And even more so, the two block downtown has more to see, including the Grassroots Art Center in an old limestone masons building,where we went on a very informative tour of several rooms and an outdoor courtyard showcasing the odd work of artists primarily from Kansas. ( “Grassroots art” was likened to “outsider art” but not “folk art.”)
There is also a phenomenal new public bathroom full of bizarre mosaics and the otherwise ordinary wood street lights are art installations. (One has various colorful belts strapped around it. Another has glass sculptures and two legs sticking up from the ground. Could it be the wicked witch of the west?)
We also found artworks in fields on Highway 14 heading to Lincoln and along Highway 18 to Lucas and Highway 232 back to Wilson and the interstate.
One disappointment: Brant’s meat market, which has sold homemade bologna for 90-some years in downtown Lucas, closed in January but the word on the street (literally from two townies sitting on a bench outside the market) is that it will reopen this summer, thanks to a new buyer.
I was glad to see “the Garden View Airbnb” now operating across the street from the Garden of Eden (run by our tour guide, who is also a cousin of Dinsmoor ) and the old hotel in Wilson (where the Movie “Paper Moon” was filmed) is still up and running. It also has a restaurant that serves dinner. Otherwise dining options are limited. We ended up about an hour west in Hays at Al’s Chickenette, which has been around since 1947 (and also has a new owner) where we had, yes, fried chicken. Very different than the upscale version we had in KC the night before but good in its own way (except for the mashed potatoes and gravy which were grey and gooey. get the fries. Much better.)