When You Think of Kansas, Do You Think of Art? You Should.

Kansas, as it turns out, is ranked third in the country for “outsider” art. You won’t find outsider art in a museum, unless, well, it’s a museum dedicated to outsider art. These are folks who are self-taught, some would say quirky beyond the typical perception of an artist, and use household objects to create their art, which is often displayed in their yards.

I {heart} this kind of art. Sure, Modigliani did interesting things with an elongated body; Picasso abandoned the body altogether; but outsider artists work from a different inspiration: what’s right in front of them. Like making cameos out of chewing gum (excuse me while I gag).

This one is so romantic: using the tools of his trade, a farmer sculpts barbed wire into life-size models of buffalo. Unable to work with paint brushes, the artist turned to paint pens, like the kind girls of the 80’s used to put dots at the end of every letter in their names–well, they still exist, and they make for stunning landscapes. Can’t make it work to paint on canvas? Use plywood putty and paint over that.

The creativity of medium is almost more interesting than the final piece itself.

One Stoplight, Three Art Museums

Lucas Kansas is one special town. A single stoplight, yet two permanent art museums, and one traveling “side show” that’s based here. Add local artists ranging from “professional” to “as-inspired” and you’ve got a community that loves art.

The Grassroots Arts Center features outsider art from around the state–and then they send you on your merry way to see the real deal. Some of the artists are in town, some are hours away. The joy is learning about their inspiration–and obsession. Because to do this kind of art, there has to be some sort of overdrive.

Fork Art Festival

These creative folk find ways to engage the town and broader community, bringing people together for events, contributing art, and donating money.

fork art

It’s not just folk art, it’s fork art. And it’s in an empty lot on Main Street. Right where it belongs.

May I Use the Facilities?

This is no generic public restroom. Unh, uh. Bedazzled, mosaic-ed, humored.

To raise funds they had people send in decorated toilet bowls for a contest–of course they did. Other contests included art with toilet paper: a 6-foot tall Davinci’s David won. As it always should.

On Main Street is Bowl Plaza–I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like this before. Click the pic to advance the slideshow.

Correction: the toilet paper is 5 feet tall

Inspiration from Your Surroundings

Remember pull tabs from soda and beer cans?  The kind that really came all the way off in a gratifyingly smooth way? Well, one artist collected 800,000 of them–he put out a call to local pool halls–and then made a car (with spinning wheels).

Pull Tab Car

A woman who was a laborer long before such a thing was remotely reasonable, was hurt and yearned for something to do. Enter limestone. And detailed carvings of polar bears, Model T Ford (weighs 600 pounds), and the obvious yet unique thought of the servants who served the Last Supper.

Limestone Figures

Are you my motherboard? There’s beauty in technology. Particularly when you take it apart. These are un-clocks.


I love the realism in the woman’s bosom.

wood figures

It seems lakes aren’t just for fishing. All of these, er, treasures, were found at the bottom of an inner-city lake. Some lost by accident, some on purpose. What a shame.

lake fodder as art

lake trash

Take recycling to a new level: simply don’t get rid of it. Carve a happy face in that bleach bottle and things will be bright and shiny in a whole new way. These delights can hang in the artist’s yard, but within 50-100 days of someone’s passing, they’re gone. Neighbors take them or the family tosses them. They’re part of the region’s culture–so it’s up to places like the Grassroots Arts Center to find the artists, cultivate relationships, and make sure the works are preserved.

bleach bottle pinata

bleach bottle pinata


Barbie never knew what was coming. She’s now adorned with claws and dinosaur heads; mummified in plaster of paris and surrounded by slinkies; her legs are made of swirly straws or fishing lures; appetizer forks protrude from her head; dresses include acorns and roofing nails.  Carmen Miranda and Medusa would envy her headdresses.

You walk into a house with walls covered in silver packing material–floor and ceiling–and on top of those are Barbies that have been, well, refashioned–to the hilt. A volunteer stopped counting the Re-Barbs when she reached 1,700. Can you blame her? It’s overwhelming and giddy-fying at the same time.

The creativity is stunning. Shopping with artist Mri Pilar has got to be a blast! She only goes to flea markets, yard sales and the Dollar Store. It would be fascinating to watch her brain work as she thinks of a way to use, well, everything.

Click on the pic to advance the slideshow.

I Know Art When I See It

This may not be your thing. You may not want it above the mantlepiece (candidly, neither do I). But I do get much more from outsider art than I do gilded frame art. The stories are more intimate–passions, obsessions, curiosities, interests. These folks aren’t painting royalty or the gods; they aren’t painting their lovers–or perhaps they are. Yet even if that’s the case, it’s with everyday objects, which–to me–makes it more relate-able than looking for urn shapes in a woman’s leg and how that relates to sexuality.

Interested in knowing more about Outsider Art?


What objects do you collect–intentionally or unintentionally–that you could use to start an art project?

Disclosure: Thank you to the Kansas and City of Lucas Tourism Bureaus for facilitating my complimentary visit to this museum.

5 Responses


They should offer found art interior decorating – I would love a wall to look like that. Also, can you play with those Barbies? Those are fabulous. I’m still laughing at “her legs are party favors”


Folks in that have become very creative. I do find it good to know that they have not deteriorated to Urine & feces as have other “creative” artists. I enjoyed your pictures very much. Makes me want to visit there.


I love Lucas! I’m stuck in Kansas (Wichita) but having places like Lucas around makes it bearable.
I attended the dedication of Bowl Plaza, and it was great fun! Lucas does try to do a lot of creative things – as a further fundraiser, they auctioned off the rights to the “First Flush” of the toilets at the Bowl (no one used them, they just flushed them).
I’m rather surprised you didn’t mention The Garden of Eden, but that may be an entry unto itself.
Do check it out – it is entirely worth the visit.

Lisette – stay tuned. The Garden of Eden is coming as its own post. You were right.


Awesome pictures! Love the art, and I think a lot of it is matle worthy. 🙂

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