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Politics Through The Eyes Of An Artistic Veteran

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Politics Through The Eyes Of An Artist: Garden Of Eden

An Art Gallery And Attraction With 3D Cartoons Created By S.P. Dinsmoor Who Was An Outspoken Political Activist And Civil War Veteran

The Garden Of Eden [Photo Credit: Rita Sharp-Lucas Publishing]

"Now this side is modern civilization as I see it. If it is not right I am to blame, but if the Garden of Eden is not right Moses is to blame. He wrote it up and I built it."  These are the words of S. P. Dinsmoor, a civil war veteran who created an art gallery in Lucas, Kansas over 100 years ago.  The art gallery is still going and it is the prime attraction in this town of 400 in the middle of Kansas

"It's only 8 blocks in either direction," explains Erika Nelson, one of the board members for the Garden of Eden.  "It's a rural, Midwestern town filled with farmers and ranchers" and a house filled with huge concrete structures build over 100 years ago, two blocks off the main street. 

S. P. Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden was built as a retirement project for Dinsmoor and "he always envisioned it as an attraction," says Nelson.  In the old days, there was a train depot a few blocks from Dinsmoor's home and he would light up his garden to be seen from there.  The Garden went through two different owners until the Kohler Foundation restored it.  "The previous owners did their best to upkeep the garden, but eventually the garden just needed money to be restored and that's when the Kohler Foundation came in," Nelson explains. 

The American Flag [Photo Credit: Erika Nelson]
Political Art At The Garden of Eden [Photo Credit: Erika Nelson]

Before getting into the details on the garden itself, the history of S. P. Dinsmoor is fascinating.  Growing up in Ohio in the late 1840s, he was a nurse in the civil war for the Union army.  According to the website, "He had grown up in a very religious home, but, like many who witnessed the inexplicable slaughter of the Civil War, began searching for other ways to understand humankind."  He, his wife, and five kids moved from Illinois to Lucas, Kansas where he worked as a farmer and a teacher.  After retirement, Dinsmoor wanted to run for Populist Party offices.  "He started building the garden after he didn't make office," Nelson explains.  He used the garden as a way to express his views. 

"They are basically 3D political cartoons," Nelson says.  Over 200 sculptures populate the garden and the house itself is very unique.  No two windows are the same in the cabin built from limestone logs, and visitors get an extra special treat when they visit - the tomb of Dinsmoor and his wife are in a mausoleum in the house.  The 8 Wonders of Kansas state, that from his tomb, "He claimed he would wink at anyone who paid to tour the garden."

The subject matter of the sculptures are varied and riddled with symbolism.  "It's a very political environment," Nelson explains.  The farmers of the area relied on the railroad back in Dinsmoor's day and when the banks went bust, the trust in the railroads went with it and the populist ideals that Dinsmoor illustrated became prevalent.  There are many examples of this at the garden and one of the tour guides explains the symbolism in great detail.  Nelson gives an example: “He made an octopus-like creature that has tentacles around the globe, around a soldier and so on.  This illustrated society to him as it was back then.  However, the octopus is being slain by the word ‘ballot’ – something he believed strongly in."

Political Art At The Garden of Eden [Photo Credit: Erika Nelson]
Ballot Sculpture [Photo Credit: Erika Nelson]

Dinsmoor was an outspoken political activist as seen in his garden and house.  Nelson says, “back then him and his civil war buddies had meetings where they can have a dialogue on political themes.  People had different opinions, but all shared with respect.”  Nowadays, Lucas, like most of Kansas, is very Republican, however, Nelson points out, “People’s strongest allegiance is to their community.”  She says that, politics aside, people work together to help the whole.

The town of Lucas also plays host to a few other artist galleries, being inspired by the Garden of Eden.  There is Florence Deeble’s Rock Garden, a lady who was inspired to create her own sculptures by using rocks from her travels.  Roadside attractions also get in the fun – “The World’s Largest Collection of World’s Smallest Versions of World’s Largest Things,” which is pretty self-explanatory once the riddle is solved. 

All in all, the Garden of Eden is the heart of the art in Lucas.  Nelson has her favorite moments working at the garden.  “I just love when visitors come through.  It reminds of the unique spark that comes from being in this town.” 


Andrew Malo

A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Education, Andrew has taught for the past decade in Chicago, New Mexico, and Japan.  He  enjoys tinkering with trucks and motorcycles, woodworking, reading and computer programming.

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