Lucas, Kansas – Journey To Grassroots Art Central

Lucas, Kansas – Journey To Grassroots Art Central

One of the key goals of Our Changing Lives is to showcase places that are often overlooked as potential destinations. Some are sites that are hidden gems inside of major cities. Others, like Lucas, Kansas, are smaller towns that hold some unique sights that are less known. While many people have never heard of this destination, we are hoping we can help spread the word about the “Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas”.

We would like to thank the Lucas Chamber of Commerce and all of the local businesses for their hospitality. Rest assured all opinions are our own.

Horseshoe Lodge is a good lodging choice when visiting Lucas, Kansas.

First Impressions of Lucas, Kansas

Lucas is about 3 hours west of Kansas City, so it is well within day-trip distance. We wanted to get a full day of exploring in, which meant heading out on a Friday evening. Being the weekend before Halloween meant that the sun had already set by the time we arrived. We decided to just head straight to our lodging at Horseshoe Lodge. Having stayed in many repurposed buildings, this is the first one that began life as a nursing home. These days it serves as a hunting lodge for the many hunters who travel to the Post Rock area.

The K-18 Cafe offers a chance for customers to fuel up for a busy day.

Everyone was Fueling Up

We were greeted on Saturday with sunshine and a chilly October morning. This town of around 400 residents doesn’t have tons of dining options, but we were about to discover they believe in hearty starts. A short drive from our lodging, and we landed at K-18 Cafe. Like most small town diners, it was filled with locals who obviously frequent the place. Friendly chatter and hot coffee helped warm us from the morning chill. After ordering our meals, we quickly learned that “short stack” only refers to height, as these things were massive. Next door to the cafe is an airfield, which is frequented by small plane enthusiasts. We were surprised to see a plane pull up to the pumps at the local filling station. Our server pointed out that it is a common sight for those who live in Lucas, but it offered some breakfast entertainment for us.

The local residents are an artistic group who display their talents for public view.

Art on Every Corner

Driving through town, we quickly realized that the Grassroots Art was quite abundant. Some refer to this art style as “Folk Art”, but no matter what you call it, we love seeing the variety and ingenuity displayed all over the town. When you make your visit to Lucas, you will want to check out some of the pieces that are displayed in many of the yards of residents.

The Garden of Eden, in Lucasm kansas, is an attraction that draws thousands of visitors per year.

Kansas’ Garden of Eden

The tourism market in Lucas began long ago, with one man’s dream. S.P. Dinsmoor believed that creating his masterpiece would be a long term money maker. He began constructing his vision at the age of 62, and would continue adding to it for 22 years. The Garden of Eden was a finalist to be one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas”, and stands as a Grassroots Art spectacle. While Dinsmoor struggled to earn enough from his creation during his life, these days the site survives off of monies from admission and souvenir sales. (You can read more about the Garden here.)

Miller's Park is a long time tourist attraction.

Miller’s Park Gets a Second Life

Around the same time that Dinsmoor was building his Garden, there was another couple in Lucas who wished to share their art with travelers. Roy and Clara Miller started their park as a rest stop and would eventually add lodging cabins, picnic tables, and even playground equipment. Having traveled extensively themselves, they used their artistic abilities to create a series of miniature buildings. These diminutive structures were fashioned with rocks and shells they picked up on their journeys.  After falling into decay and being moved to Hays, the site was resurrected and returned by the Kohler Foundation in 2013. Today visitors can view these amazing creations for themselves, at the park next door to the Garden.

Brant's Meat Market is a Lucas landmark for decades.

Heading Downtown

One of the fun things about visiting new destinations is interacting with the locals. Lucas may not have a string of boutique shops along their Main Street, but they are not bereft of business. One that certainly drew our attention, was Brant’s Meat Market. Opened in 1922, this family owned shop served not just Lucas, but the surrounding region. When the family decided to sell the business recently, the locals were obviously concerned. Fortunately, the new owners are dedicated to continuing the tradition of only offering house made and fresh cut meats. You may want to bring a cooler when you visit, so you can bring home some of their creations.

The Backstreet Bakery offers visitors a dining option right in the heart of town.

Making New Friends During Our Lunch Break

Being travel bloggers means that we will usually work with the local tourism bureaus. Lucas may not be a sprawling metropolis, but they are still an important tourist destination. Our contact, Connie, had arranged our lodging and attraction visits, as well as offering important tips to make the most of our trip. We even met up for a lunch at Backstreet Bakery, which offered some needed fuel for our afternoon explorations. As you can see, tourism bureaus are a key partner that offer a variety of services. Always remember them when doing your research on a new destination.

The World's Largest is a collection of unique tourist attractions that travelers can find during their journeys.

Let’s Get Small

During our lunch, we were introduced to Erika Nelson, who founded  The World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things Traveling Roadside Attraction and Museum. She invited us to check out the home base for her traveling exhibit. While growing up, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time exploring Route 66 sights. Many of these are the exact kind of places that Erika loves to showcase during her travels. We are sure you’ve seen them during your drives, as well. Things like giant muffler men or many of those other “tourist traps” that were designed to get travelers to pull off the road.  (Read more about World’s Largest here.)

An oversize art piece from Inze Marshall details a wagon headed across the prairie.

Grassroots Art Headquarters

Our timing was great that day. We had just left the World’s Largest and headed across the street towards our next stop. While catching up on some social media, a tour was heading out from the Grassroots Art Center. We joined in and it ended up being quite an experience. For those unfamiliar with folk art, this is the perfect place to get a better understanding of some of the untrained artists that hail from Kansas. (Read more about Grassroots Art here.)

The DA DA Muse' um is the brainchild of a Kansas artist.

An Unexpected Addition

As we were finishing up at Grassroots Art, the curator noted another possible stop just up the street. She pointed to a car parked a couple blocks away, and told us that it signaled the artist was still there. We hurried up the sidewalk to the DA DA Muse’Um Art Gallery to meet up with Alan Vopat. This Salina based artist has doodled his way to fame, with his unique style. It requires a close inspection to see that his pieces are composed with an element of himself in each. He has thousands of sketches that cover an amazing number of topics. We hope you get to meet this interesting Kansan when you visit Lucas.

Making a pit stop at the Bowl Plaza in Lucas, Kansas.

Break Time

How does a town of 400 handle the needs of thousands of tourists per year? Obviously, having a few restaurants, gas stations, and other sundries are required. This still leaves the need to satisfy the call of nature, and Lucas came up with an interesting solution. The artists of the town came up with a plan to construct a public restroom that has no rival in the state. After winning the support of the locals, Bowl Plaza was designed and built with unique qualities. A visit to the #2 ranked public restroom in America is more than just a bathroom break. (Read more about Bowl Plaza here.)

Being invited to the annual Halloween pageant made us feel like locals.

A Special Invitation

Visiting on the weekend before Halloween happened to coincide with the town’s annual Halloween Pageant. Connie asked us if we would have time to attend this event. Since we didn’t have a deadline to be back home, we were happy to oblige. A large portion of the town shows up to watch the kids of all ages display their best costumes. We were honored to not only be invited, but to feel welcomed into the community.

The authors pose for a selfie in front of one of the Grassroots Art Central pieces in Lucas, kansas.

Getting Off The Interstate

Traveling has opened up a wide range of experiences for us. Many times, we have read how travel is an excellent form of continued education. It gives the traveler a chance to hear the stories of those who came before. Potential new friends can be found in every stop along the way. We love the idea of exploring new destinations. While we use the interstates to get us to our stops, we know they are only a means of increasing the time we will have to spend at our final destination. The real fun begins when we arrive in the cities and towns. Places like Lucas, Kansas are a prime example of the unique experiences that can be found once you get off the interstate. So where will the road take you next?

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By |2019-01-02T07:41:30+00:00January 2nd, 2019|Central US, Kansas, Lucas|4 Comments

About the Author:

We are Jeff and Crystal, a Baby Boomer couple who love exploring this big blue marble we all call home. After spending the first portion of our lives together raising a family, the empty-nest syndrome finally caught up with us. This has given us the opportunity to spend more time traveling, and seeking out new destinations. We developed this travel blog with the goal of showing how we “Visit Like A Local”. Our itineraries are designed to get us off the interstates, and into the heart of the places we visit. We believe this will allow our readers to choose a cultural experience, and eventually head home with a real flavor of the places they visit. We hope you are enjoying our website and will consider sharing it with your friends. Please come back often, as we post new articles three times per week.

4 Comments

  1. PATRICIA BELL January 2, 2019 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    You need to show on a map where these places are located love it

    • Jeff & Crystal January 2, 2019 at 1:05 pm - Reply

      We have considered adding maps, but that add-on slows down our site speed.

  2. Alley Pauley Vedock January 7, 2019 at 6:21 am - Reply

    I was born and raised in Lucas, KS. Thanks for the wonderful journey back. It is certainly that and more!

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