A mighty Garden on the great plains of Kansas — S.P. Dinsmoor

Garden of Eden — S.P. Dinsmoor

305 E 2nd St
Lucas, KS
Folk art environment masterpiece, Concrete
Built: 1905-1927

The Garden of Eden is the oldest complete self-taught artist environment in the United States, creating a folk art epicenter in this rural Kansas town. In 2011, the Kohler Foundation spent the summer in Lucas, restoring the Garden to Dinsmoor’s vision.

Restoration at the Garden of Eden

In 1907, at the age of 64, S.P. Dinsmoor completed his Log Cabin Home, built from native limestone. Then, using the newest building compound of its day—concrete—he spent the next 18 years surrounding his house with a narrative sculpture garden. The garden also had its own electric generator to power the lights. The night train running from Kansas City to Denver would stop, letting passengers off for a while to marvel at the site and get a good dose of Kansas populist preaching. The life-size sculptures range from biblical (the Garden of Eden), to political (Populism), to historical (S.P. served in the Civil War), and topical (a pyramid-shaped crypt, probably influenced by the 1922 discovery of King Tut’s tomb). S.P. had himself embalmed, and ever the showman, he still lies there today.


“[On Resurrection morn] if I have to go up, I have a cement angel outside, above the door, to take me up.  If I have to go below, I’ll grab my [two-gallon cement] jug and fill it with water on the way down.  I think I am well prepared for the good old orthodox future.”

“If the Garden of Eden is not right, Moses is to blame. He wrote it up and I built it.”

Dinsmoor, a Civil War veteran and school teacher from Illinois, farmed in rural Lucas and was active in Populist politics.  He moved to town in 1905, built a stone log cabin, and started making concrete sculptures in his yard. In 1907 he finished building his limestone house, the Log Cabin Home, and began filling the land around it with large concrete structures and figures.

Entrance to the property is through a gate with large, sculpted letters reading Garden of Eden. Inside, Adam and Eve stand at the entrance to a grape arbor which is supported by a long serpent. Nearby, Cain is holding a sheep and Abel a pumpkin. Following this grouping, Dinsmoor placed another – the body of Abel lying on a platform with his wife and an angel over him while his frightened dog stands by. Cain and his wife stand on the next tree as if nothing has happened, though a pointing hand and glaring eye accuse them.

Following Cain and Abel is a row of concrete trees with the American flag protecting a scorpion below it. The grouping here begins with an infant, threatened by the scorpion, reaching for her mother who is trying to get help from a soldier in Civil War uniform (Dinsmoor himself had been a soldier in the Civil War). The soldier, unaware, is pointing his rifle at an Indian. The Indian is aiming his bow and arrow at a dog that’s chasing a fox up a tree. The fox is busy chasing a bird that’s going after a worm that’s eating a leaf. Dinsmoor said about this group: “Now this is modern civilization as I see it.”

At the top of The Liberty Tree, between the Log Cabin Home and Mausoleum, stands the Goddess of Liberty. She is wrapped in the American flag and on her spear (“Trust”), is impaled the scorpion (“Chartered Rights”). Below, two citizens hold a saw marked “Ballot.”

In the last group, Labor is crucified by the professionals Dinsmoor called “grafters” – a Lawyer, Doctor, Preacher and Banker. This powerful group of figures remained unfinished. When he died in 1933, Dinsmoor was embalmed and placed in a glass-sided coffin in the large limestone Mausoleum he’d built on the grounds in the 1920s. He’s buried there with his first wife and you can see him there on display when you take the tour.

The Garden of Eden is the oldest complete self-taught artist’s environment in the U.S and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Tours of the Garden of Eden and Cabin Home are held daily. Write or call for information.

Locally, the Kansas Rural Tourism Board hosts the Garden Of Eden Home Page. There are photos and a gift store where your purchases will help to maintain the premises. Also, the Grassroots Art Center in Lucas KS has additional info and great photos.

Find this site and others with the iPhone app, “Best Road Trip Ever!”

(Photos © Copyright Kelly Ludwig, all rights reserved)

Bibliography & Links:

“Detour Art—Outsider, Folk Art, and Visionary Folk Art Environments Coast to Coast, Art and Photographs from the Collection of Kelly Ludwig” by Kelly Ludwig, Kansas City Star Books, 2007.

“Rare Visions & Roadside Revelations” (the book), by Randy Mason, Michael Murphy and Don Mayberger, Kansas City Star Publishing, 2002.

“Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations Coast to Coast Travel-o-Pedia” by Randy Mason, et. al., Kansas City Star Books, 2009.

On DVD – Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, “Back to the Breadbasket,” KCPT, Kansas City Public Television, 2004.

“20th Century American Folk, Self Taught, and Outsider Art” by Betty-Carol Sellen, Cynthia J. Johnson, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York, 1993.

“American Folk Art, A Regional Reference” by Kristin G. Congdon and Kara Kelley Hallmark, ABC-CLIO Publishers, California, 2012.

“American Self-Taught Art: An Illustrated Analysis of 20th Century Artists and Trends with 1,319 Capsule Biographies” by Florence Laffal and Julius Laffal, 2003.

“Contemporary American Folk Art  – A Collector’s Guide”  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, 1996.

“Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists” by  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, New York, 1990.

“Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond” by John Maizels, Phaidon Press; New Ed edition, 1996, 2000.

“Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Environments” by Roger Manley and Mark Sloan, Aperture, New York, 1997.

“Fantasy Worlds” by Deidi Von Schaewen and John Maizels, Taschen, New York, 1999.

“Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art—A guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources” by Betty-Carol Sellen with Cynthia J. Johnson, McFarland & Company, 2000.

“The Intuitive Eye, The Mendelsohn Collection”  by Gael Mendelsohn, Michael Mendelsohn, Ricco/Maresca Gallery, FotoFolio,U.S., 2000.

“Raw Vision Outsider Art Sourcebook”  Raw Vision, Ltd., 2002.

“Outsider Art Sourcebook: International Guide to Outsider Art and Folk Art” (Raw Vision) by John Maizels, 2009.

Roadside America

“Narrow Larry” Harris

Carol Yoho

Kansas Rural Tourism Board

Grassroots Art Center

Home Page

8 Wonders of Kansas

Detour Art flickr site