Lucas, Kansas, population 407, is located 114 miles from Wichita (its largest neighbor). Although the quirky town is way off the beaten track in north-central Kansas, it is a tourist destination — 10,000 people come by each year to see the art in residents’ backyard galleries of folk art.
In 1996, Governor Bill Grave named Lucas the “Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas” due to the large number of “yard environments.” Today Today the town boasts a resource center for 90 such collections, created by self-taught artists in Lucas, most over the age of 65.
The Grassroots Art Center in Lucas was established in the early 1990s to document folk art in Kansas, and the Midwest.
“We are a magnet for self-taught artists…residents move into an art career after they retire from 9-5 office jobs,” explained Center Director Rosslyn Schultz.
Most make their art from recycled materials lying around the house. When their homes’ indoor space is used up, they put art into their front and backyards, which are open to the public.
Lucas has a long history of residents-turned-outsider artists. Between 1905 and 1927, Samuel P. Dinsmoor, a retired teacher, who had served in the Civil War, created “The Garden of Eden.” The Garden consists of a “log cabin” — a ten-room house built of local limestone which he painted — and a landscaped garden with over 200 concrete sculptures of figures from religious and political figures. The Garden is on the National Register of Historic Places.
His work inspired Florence Deeble who, at age 58, built postcard scenes, sculptures around her home with rocks brought back from her travels. She continued to add to the collection for nearly 50 years, creating what is now known as “The Deeble Rock Garden.”
In 2008, 30 Lucas residents got together and decided the town needed a public restrooms for its thousands of visitors. “They said, ‘You find eccentric art in Lucas. We need something unusual,’” according to Schultz.
They settled on a building that looks like a gigantic toilet. Two businessmen donated the land for it; Kohler Plumbing Company, which supports outsider art, donated the two sinks and 3 toilets and a urinal. Nearly 75 percent of the residents volunteered their time and materials to make it happen.
Plans for Bowl Plaza called for mosaics. One retired person who had experience with the medium came from 30 miles away and showed people how to do it. Eventually everything was covered with mosaic. The floor is created from leftover tiles from individuals home projects in all sizes and colors. The town collected 1,700 bottles that were incorporated into the design. One man contributed his chess set while others gave jewelry they no longer used.
The plaza at the entrance to the bowl is sunken, providing an area for people to sit and talk. A giant concrete toilet paper roll unfurls outside as a stimulus for conversation beneath the toilet’s 14-foot-tall lid.
“Our lid is always up,” Schultz said. “This was done by volunteers and took thousands of hours to put together.”
The $100,000 building is almost complete and paid for by grants, local fundraisers such as the Great Toilet Seat Art Show and Auction, and donations from people throughout the country. To close the gap, the town took bids on eBay for the honor of the first flush of The Superbowl on the men’s side, on June 2 at 3:21. The highest bid was $265.
The public restroom was officially open for business on June 2nd after 3:21p.m. For further information, visit the Grassroots Art Center’s site.