April Fool’s Day in Lucas, Kansas, will be therapeutic — seriously

March 29, 2021 3:33 am

Stilwell artist Leanne Doljac’s mosaic dog sculptures are part of the “Flying Free” exhibition at the Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, Kansas. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our stateLori Brack is an author who has worked in programs and publications for the Salina Art Center, as a college and community writing instructor and as director of a foundation-funded artist development project in Salina. She lives in Lucas.

Art keeps pulling us through.

In our time of cultural change magnified by a year of pandemic shutdowns, art is still here to remind us of what matters. In Kansas, what matters are often the unpretentious qualities of individualism, humor and know-how. When we have time on our hands after illness or retirement — or in lockdown or quarantine — Kansans’ spirit of invention produces objects that express political views, remind us of the past and point toward possible futures.

After our long winter of COVID-19 despair, what could be better than a chance to come together to experience what is possible? That’s what is on offer on April Fool’s Day in Lucas. Many events will take place outdoors, distancing will be observed inside and face coverings will be required. In fact, a prize will be given for the most creative mask.

The annual event began six years ago when Wilson artist Alan Vopat was looking for a place to store his accumulated art, and discovered his cousin was selling a building on Main Street. To celebrate the grand opening of the DaDa Muse’Um in 2016, Vopat and Jeannie Stramel put together the first April Fool’s event.

“April Fool’s Day seemed like a good fit,” Stramel said. “It’s a funny, quirky day and it seemed like it made sense for Lucas.”

Rosslyn Schultz, founder and co-director with Stramel of the Grassroots Art Center is the organizer behind a menu of arts delight from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on April 1 throughout Lucas, a grassroots art mecca named one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art.

A flying creature sculpture by Great Bend artist Bob Mix. (Steve Schultz)

Grassroots art prompts us to ask, “Do you know what you haven’t thought about yet?” at a time when the unusual and imaginative may be just what the doctor ordered. This year, the theme is “Thursday Therapy” as the Art Center celebrates 25 years of collecting, preserving, and exhibiting the work of more than 120 Kansas artists with its retrospective exhibition “Flying Free” (admission by donation on April 1).

Most grassroots artists, sometimes called outsider artists because they are self-taught,
make their environments, sculptures, paintings, mechanical works, and fiber creations
outside of contact with the world of fine art. Kansas ranks among the nation’s top states for documented outsider art sites.

It’s natural to wonder, Why here? Kansas artists — trained or untrained — must compete with the sky and weather, the double dramas we live under, that draw our attention and fill our conversation. Maybe art made under such natural spectacle picks up the broad view, the parallels, the flash and flow.

Mri-Pilar’s life-sized sculpture is part of the “Flying Free” exhibition at the Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, Kansas. (Submitted)

As a writer and arts worker, I go to the arts because I am always seeking freedom and exhilaration. I am released from daily reality when I discover the excitement of participating in something brand new, like viewing a stack of apple boxes with paintings on the sides that incorporate the red apple of the logo (Jo Funk of Russell, whose work is included in “Flying Free”), or standing inside a shining room full of reconstructed Barbie dolls wearing computer parts (Mri-Pilar’s Garden of Isis in the Deeble House, 126 S. Fairview Ave.).

These artists remind us there are many ways of being human and being here — other ways of thinking, new ideas worth considering, fresh expressions worth valuing.

Art hooks up the best parts of ourselves, like the optimism in welded scrap metal and junk that become a bird in flight (Bob Mix of Great Bend) and the wry humor in caricatures of workers repeating their tasks over and over in kinetic sculpture (Paul Boyer of Belleville).

In this second COVID spring, art will help us recover if we keep our eyes focused on the possibilities.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Lori Brack
Lori Brack

Lori Brack is the author of "A Case for the Dead Letter Detective" (2021) and "Museum Made of Breath" (2018). In 2010, her poetic script for "Farmer’s Dream," a work of performance art based in Kansas agricultural history and labor by Ernesto Pujol, was published as "A Fine Place to See the Sky." The script is a collaboration with her grandfather’s 1907-1918 Kansas farming journals. Brack worked in programs and publications for the Salina Art Center and as a college and community writing instructor. Most recently, she directed a foundation-funded artist development project in Salina. She moved to Lucas last fall where she lives two blocks from the Garden of Eden and 14 miles straight south of the geodetic center of the continent.