Light Out for the Territories - Lindsborg, Lucas, Wilson
Yawning, breakfast, coffee. 10:00am we hit the road, not-exactly-sharp. Waves of sun through halfway cloudy skies, rolling hills – blue and purple, sprawling greens and golden prairie. Hawks are circling, horses are grazing; sheep, goats, cows and barns. Kansas.
We’re on a weekend trip to Lindsborg, Kansas (“Little Sweden”), about an hour away from Wichita. Our main objective is to find S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden in the city of Lucas (“The Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas”), about an hour away from Lindsborg. With Wichita behind us, we relax, explore, and enjoy the curiosities and wonders along the way.
Around 11:00am, rows of Swedish Dala Horses greet us and “Välkommen!” we’re officially in Lindsborg. Our first round of coffee is wearing off so we’re not sure if it’s a symptom of caffeine withdrawal but there are people walking around dressed like waffles.
We look to Blacksmith Coffee Shop & Roastery to curb this joint hallucination, but as soon as we step through the door those same waffles inform us that it is in fact (what a blessing), Våffeldagen! Waffle Day only comes once a year (March 25th) and is one of many traditions celebrated in Sweden that Lindsborg honors. After gigantic, syrupy waffles, some sketching, and a quick game of Connect Four, we stop by the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery.
Inside the Gallery, Sandzén’s large, transcendental impastos channel the surrounding countryside in glorious, passionate color. One of Kansas’ greatest artists, this is well worth the trip in itself. Further back are smaller rooms full of local, regional, and national art, including an excellent printmaking show of Prairie Print Makers and Associated American Artists.
It’s about 12:30 now and we begin our drive to Lucas, Kansas. Lucas is the so-called “Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas” and with good reason; Creativity is king and this city its kingdom. Every block is packed with public art, each more eccentric, humorous, and ponderous than the last. On a guided tour around the town’s Grassroots Art Center, you’ll hear terms like art brut, outsider art, and folk art used to describe a fascinating place that freely expresses our rawest creative impulses.
Shortly after 2:00pm, we arrive: the Garden of Eden. It is immediately clear why this biblical-political-art-mansion is considered one of the “Wonders of Kansas”; it is unlike anything you’ve seen before. All around the perimeter of S.P. Dinsmoor’s home (in a hilariously normal-looking neighborhood), the All-Seeing Eye, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, serpents, angels, monopolies, war, and natural selection all converge with a wink in a monumental web of concrete sculptures that are anything but subtle. Seeing is believing.
The Garden of Eden was designed as a tourist attraction (we saw visitors from Haysville to Kazakhstan) and reflects fervently held philosophical and political beliefs. S.P. Dinsmoor was a Civil War veteran that began his magnum opus at the sprightly age of 62, taking nearly 23 years to finish. Looking outside is free but the tour is well-worth the admission price.
The interior is captivating and educational. You’ll notice every doorway and window are different sizes. All the woodwork was crafted by hand. He built with limestone like logs for a cabin. You can even see Dinsmoor’s body in a mausoleum of his own creation in the backyard (not for the faint of heart but really cool). Wild, cautionary, even scary, his life’s work fights against persecution and tyranny, rooted in a deeply humane love. Totally worth it.
Pushing on 4:00pm, we had accomplished everything we set out to do. It was going to take a while to process what we just experienced but we heard something about “The World’s Largest Czech Egg” in Wilson, KS, just twenty-ish minutes away.
So, after a quick bite at “Grandma’s Soda Shop & Diner”, we turned a corner and the Egg was upon us. Impossible to miss at 20ft tall, Wilson’s “Czech Egg” is an incredible juxtaposition against the small-town backdrop and another delightful expression of the diverse cultural traditions celebrated in Kansas.
At 5:30pm, we head back to Wichita with a wealth of new experiences, far beyond what words can describe. Yet we haven’t even scratched the surface. There are endlessly new and exciting roads before us, landscapes to explore, small towns to support, all within a day’s reach. Light out for the territories