Monday, July 19, 2010

Garden of Eden

Yesterday while driving across the high plains, I took the kids to visit the Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas. Built in the early decades of the century by one Samuel P. Dinsmoor, it is quite the bit of folk art and well worth seeing if you're driving across the country on I-70.

On the south end of this tiny town (population about 500) you come across this amazing concrete sculpture garden surrounding a house. Designed by Dinsmoor to be a tourist attraction, the house itself is pretty interesting. It is made out of local limestone (quarried just south of Lucas in Wilson, KS) but, instead of having the limestone broken into blocks as was traditional, Dinsmoor ordered long slabs of limestone and then used them like logs to build what he called his "cabin home."

Dinsmoor was really into concrete (a recent invention at the time) and he made all of the decor on the house (as well as the surrounding statuary) freehand — using his hands and shaping tools, but no molds — which is pretty impressive:

Well, no molds except the occasional beer bottle (this part was made during Prohibition, apparently):

You can go in the house (I'm not sure if that was the case the first time I came here, 20+ years ago), and see the storage/tornado safety cellar:

In addition to the house, he built a mausoleum for himself and his first wife, and had himself mummified (not wrapped up in fabric, but smoked to preserve the body). Per the old man's wishes, apparently, guided tours include a visit to the mausoleum to see his body. Another creepy bit in the mausoleum is a photo he was apparently very proud of: using two exposures, he took a picture of himself looking down on himself in his own casket.

But, of course, the real attraction are all the statues around the outside. Here is (not surprisingly) my favorite, the crucifixion of labor by the Doctor, Lawyer, Preacher and Banker:

And here is the Octopus of Monopoly Capital strangling the world (I'm not sure which bit represents this, but apparently one part of it is the octopus controlling the people by controlling their food supply — a timeless point, I suppose).

In another place, a man and a woman are using the "ballot saw" to regain their rights from the Octopus of Monopoly Capital:

In addition to the political parables, there are (not surprisingly, given the name), Biblical (and pseudo-Biblical) parables. Here, for example, is the all-seeing eye of God, being guarded by an angel with a flaming sword:

And the Devil in the corner, with God's hand reaching out to get him (apparently Dinsmoor thought the Diety could be a little more, ahem, active in trying to, you know, suppress evil and reduce human suffering and so forth)

His first wife apparently got tired of him being outside sculpting all the time, so he built a little face of himself waving into the kitchen window at her (the kitchen was in the basement):

Some more statuary:

When I first came here in the late 80s, it was kind of hard to find (it had just been purchased by a group of "grassroots art" people) but now it has apparently spawned a kind of "grassroots art" renaissance in Lucas, with a Grassroots Arts Center and this big old, I guess, commemorative plate by the highway as you come into town:

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