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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Grass Roots Arts Center

Continuing my Saturday afternoon odyssey in Lucas, Kansas.

I brought my bike with me to Lucas. Just three months before this trip, I had coronary bypass surgery so I haven't been on the bike so much. I had taken two rides, a six mile and a ten prior to this trip, but I figured I might be able to set up camp at Wilson Lake and then cycle in to Lucas.

That plan didn't really work out because I didn't get to the lake to make camp until after I'd done most of what I came to Lucas for. But I did leave my car at the Garden of Eden and use the bike to tool around the tiny town that afternoon.

Like a miniature version of the guy with the huge bus-sized RV towing a subcompact car so he can do some sight seeing without driving a house.

The guide at the Grass Roots Arts Center wanted to give me a ride to the Deeble house, which is part of the tour, but I decided to hop on the bike instead (I'd already unlocked it). She told me where to turn and whatnot, and I beat her there by a couple of minutes. I love when that happens, when people assume the bicycle is a disadvantage when it's actually the opposite.

I admit the Grass Roots Arts Center was somewhat anticlimactic for me. I'd been on the road all morning, then had done the Garden of Eden, and a good chunk of this museum is actually exactly as I recall it from five years ago. The first time I was through here, I kept coming around the corner and thinking No way! There's even more amazing stuff over here!

And don't get me wrong, it is amazing stuff. And I did notice details I missed last time around (or had forgotten) such as a sculpture made entirely out of stuff from the bottom of a drained lake.

Among the debris from the bottom of that lake were several real guns, repurposed to much better use than, no doubt, they were put to before being chucked in a lake. Reminded me of a joke in Jonathan Letham's Motherless Brooklyn about how the Gowanus Canal was the only body of water in the world that was one third guns—a joke that has been re-used by me in reference to Big Eleven Lake.

I would say that the crown jewel of the Grass Roots Arts Center, to me, is the pull tab sculptures. Since beer and soda doesn't even come with this style of tab anymore, these are likely never to be duplicated. I can't decide which is cooler, the car or the motorcycle.

And for all the disclaiming signs about how fragile they are, there's photos on the wall of the artist sitting on the motorcycle.

Some of this art is for sale, and there was one piece I could have technically afforded (sort of) and that I really liked. I was not, however, convinced I had a proper way to display it in my home (I could see it becoming a dog chew-toy way too easily), and in any case buying folk art seems a lazy way out. Shouldn't you use these things to inspire your own creations. I have all the respect in the world for formally trained artists, but part of the appeal of folk art to me is that people who never had a chance to go to art school (or even an art supply store) can still create masterpieces, works of real beauty and originality.

You hear a lot about the flack these artists took when creating their masterpieces. When you live in a town of 400, there might not be a neighborhood association in the sense there is in a snooty, well-to-do suburb of a major metro area, but in another way the whole town is a neighborhood association.

Even the woman who was giving tours at the Garden of Eden said her Dad vehemently advocated for Sam Dinsmoor's incarceration in a booby hatch. And that's someone who's related to the guy. Local eccentrics seem to have established, at this point, a certain level of street cred: tourism may not be a huge industry in Lucas but in a town that size anything that brings in some foot traffic is a plus. You pay for a camp site, you buy a meal at the diner, you get firewood, gas and lip balm, some sausages from Brant's and other foodstuffs from the grocery and the next thing you know—add in the admission charges at the museums and you start to wonder where a hundred bucks went. My hundred bucks isn't all that much, but how many of me are there passing through in a year?

Build it and they will come doesn't always work, but don't build it and why would they bother?

There was plenty of evidence, too, that I was in post rock country. It's fairly amazing the work it took to quarry the limestone with hand tools, but the Czech immigrants who made this part of the prairie work knew workable stone when they found it, and since there was no lumber to be had anywhere in sight, their choice was to build with stone or with sod, and stone weathers better.

I'd seen these rocks many times, but I never realized those clean round semi-circular grooves in the rock where made by a brace and bit, some guy leaning on a hand powered drill to create a hole for chiseling the piece free. They say they got callouses on their chest from leaning on the brace and bit, and I believe it. Talk about an honest days' work.

When I left Lucas, I ate breakfast in Lincoln (Kansas, not Nebraska) at a diner. An old timer there was telling me about what the old-timers told him, by which he meant guys his age he talked to when he was my age, I think.

He said the hand-quarrying thing had died out by the time he was old enough to work, concrete was too much cheaper and there were trees around these parts by then anyway, but he knew people who had built homes and even barns by prying rocks out of the ground and stacking them up. Lincoln's City Hall was built that way, actually.

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