Projects in Kansas
- The carvings on this page were all done in Post Rock Country, a large region of Central Kansas, specifically in and around the small town of Lucas, in Lincoln County. Lucas lies at the end of the Post Rock Scenic Byway (K232) and is home to the Garden of Eden and the Lucas Grassroots Art Center, both travel highlights in rural Kansas. 
- During four insightful and rewarding trips to this region, primarily to carve in the local limestone, I have grown attached and enamored by the generous people who live there. A calming balance exists between the struggle and the simplicity. The people love their little town of Lucas, and I mean little. But it has a unique character, a quirky one at that, which seems to be the glue. 


                                                         Go to the Travel Section to view a Slideshow of Post Rock Country.

2010 - My first visit to Post Rock Country was supposed to be a two day pass through the region. I was taking off on a 6000 mile road trip. a loop with a few zig-zags. From Ojai, California, out to the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, up through Colorado, all the way to Montana. So why not zig out to Post Rock Country in central Kansas? It didn't seem like that much of a detour. I wanted to spend a day carving a face into one of the stone fenceposts somewhere out in rural farming country. My plan was to pull my camper over somewhere that looked safe near enough a post, camp there two nights, and hit the road. I had been carving faces in the limestone "Kansas Fenceposts" for a few years at Art City in Ventura, and it seemed fitting to leave a little something as a gift to the people of Post Rock Country. 


My first stop in Post Rock Country was in the small town of Lucas at the end of the Post Rock Scenic Byway with a Grass Roots Art Center that sounded interesting. The good people of Lucas, especially Roslyn Shultz at the Art Center, insisted that I pick a Post Rock, as they call them, somewhere near Lucas for my carving. The post to the left was my first choice, and happened to be land where Larry Hickman kept his bulls. 

I was given permission to park my camper among a cluster of abandoned stone ranch structures where I could plug in. A small shed had a long Czechoslovakian name and 1887 hand-carved over the door. The large barn had 1900 neatly carved in a stone over it's entry and the house had 1905 finely carved in a stone over the front door. I was told the family which settled this land, as all families did, lived in a dugout until the other structures were completed. Storage of food and protecting livestock took priority over human comforts.

I carved all day and watched the bullfights at night. The two largest bulls would butt heads and push each other back and forth while the smaller ones pretended to be on one side or the other. I was awoken in the middle of the night to a rocking motion as the bulls scratched up against my truck.

Four days later I had carved Chelsea. 

2011 - My second trip to Post Rock Country had a lot more purpose. I made arrangements to stay in a trailer next to Richard and Kay Mettlen's barn, and since I didn't have to take my over-cab camper, I had an open truck bed to haul stone home. I also had hopes of finding some paid work in the form of a commission to carve a post for someone local. I planned to be there for up to a month, and thanks to Larry Hickman, who came through for me again, the trip was a complete success. Too bad it was the hottest July in Kansas history!

I don't think I've met people any finer than the Mettlen family of Lucas, Kansas. I had only briefly met Kay the year before, yet they were generous enough to offer me their 30' air-conditioned trailer for the entire month. (And urged me to use the air conditioner.)
Richard's grandparents homesteaded a few miles away in 1877. We drove many a country mile and passed land owned by cousins he has never met. 
During that month I was lucky enough to meet most of the immediate family. Richard's parents, Jean and Mildred, both in their late eighties, lived next door, and Jean had some amazing stories to tell. The grandkids were delightful and surprising. I watched Joel, age 12, make a go-cart out of a lawn mower. Beau and Makenna, 7 and 11, picked up my chisels and carved figures in stone that won ribbons in the county fair, and on one day they painted all 18 family names onto plow blades to line the yard.

In 2011 the Russell County Commissioners voted to name it's courthouse square after hometown hero Bob Dole. It just so happened that Larry Hickman was on the commission and suggested having a portrait of Mr. Dole carved into one of their local post rocks. And he happened to know a guy who could do it. I was granted the commission.

I read up on Mr. Dole and was sincerely impressed by his life's story. Carving his likeness was a true honor. I saw in Bob Dole what I had learned was common to all of the people I had been meeting. There may be miles of corn field between ranches, further still between towns, but the people in rural Kansas treat everyone as if they were their neighbor. They wave or nod at each person they pass, whether they've seen them before or not. 

Mr. Dole earned the Purple Heart for being shot in the back during WWII. He returned to his home in Russell, Kansas, and instead of looking for someone to help him out, he looked for the people of his state who needed his help, and he did his best, pen in hand, and head held high. 

That's normal, whether it's a shovel or a tractor, "What do you need?" was the second most common question I heard asked. And it rarely took prompting.


It's tough out there. I don't think many people realize how tough it is, farming and ranching. Praying for rain and cursing the hail that comes. Plowing through the night while the getting is good, hoping that your crop has a good harvest yield, is a way of life. Lying on a gravel road, under a massive tractor with hydraulic fluid dripping in your eyes, sand blowing at 40 miles an hour, reaching blindly for the right wrench to stop the leak, is all part of a typical day. 

They each have at least one thing in common. They have endured. The towns are shrinking. Some are now but a small cluster of homes, many empty, businesses and schools long closed. Not many farmers want their kids to be farmers. It's such a difficult, tenuous life, 
crop to crop, season to season, year to year. 

So, at the end of the day they get together, sit on the porch and sip a cool drink. Put the air conditioner on in the truck and go for a drive. There's not much else to do, so they tell stories, marvel at the past, question the present, and wonder what lies in the future. 

The Post Rocks are a constant reminder of the hardship the people endured to build this land. And if they could do it 125 years ago, why can't we do as much today. Boy do they.

I'd like to thank Larry Hatteberg of KAKE TV in Wichita for featuring me on Hatteberg's People. Larry's segments are truly pieces of art in their own form.
Watch it on Youtube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1biG1uuPMA4

2012 - My third trip to Kansas had a secondary purpose - to acquire stone. I bought a truck-bed-trailer while I was there and towed over 5,000 lbs of stone back to Ojai. 27 pieces of Fencepost Limestone. 4 full posts, 2 slabs, and 21 smaller blocks, mostly from fallen farm structures near Lucas.
- The primary purpose of my trip remained as it had been the previous two years - to leave a few carvings behind, as a gift to Post Rock Country and this small farming region I had become so fond of. 


During my first few days in Lucas I was questioned a few times regarding my choice of subject if I was planning to do another carving on K232, the Post Rock Scenic Byway. My first two subjects had been the daughters of the folks who had offered me a place to stay. But I heard a few times that I should carve one of the men of Lucas; the men truly wore the faces of this land.

So one morning, having coffee with the farmers at the K18, I asked, who should I carve? They all pointed to Leo D. Leach. Leo owns the Lucas hardware store, has been Lucas' plumber for 60 years, and, as I learned, fixes just about anything for anyone, anytime.

Leo D. was flattered and happily sat for a few photos. He has one of the most 
beloved  and recognizable faces in the area, making him the perfect subject indeed.


If you live in Kansas you are either a Kansas State Wildcat fan or a Kansas Jayhawk fan. The bathroom I use in the Mettlen's barn is primarily purple. Their logo is the Powercat. The shower curtain, towel hooks, wall paper and rug all had purple Powercats. I'm not complaining.
Go Wildcats!

  Jaylen Mettlen, 11


In 2012 Lucas proudly opened their new public bathroom at the Bowl Plaza with a "Royal Flush" celebration. As is the Lucas way, their new bathroom is an artwork in itself. The bathroom was built in the shape of a giant toilet and is adorned with uniquely designed mosaics created by local artists. 

Going back to the early 50's, the town of Lucas has had a special attraction for artists. The Garden of Eden may have started it all, but Grassroots artists of all sorts have found Lucas and made it home.

Visit these sites to learn more about Lucas:

The Lucas Grassroots Art Center:
http://www.grassrootsart.net/

We will dearly miss Eric Abraham:
http://www.ericabraham.net/

http://www.skyways.org/kansas/towns/Lucas/index.html

http://kansastravel.org/lucaskansas.htm

View Erica Nelson's art projects:
http://www.kansastravel.org/worldslargestcollection.htm



2014
- I scheduled my trip a little earlier this year, arriving in late April, hoping to miss the heat which had plagued me the previous two years. It never got too hot, but boy was it windy. Even by Kansas standards it was one of the windiest years they could remember. Dust storms caused pile ups on the I70 and a semi-truck was toppled over. But those things happened all the time. When they heard a train was blown over that was news.
 
I started and finished this trip to Lucas with portraits of Jean and Jensen Mettlen.
- Jean Mettlen lived an amazing 89 years of life, right up until October of 2013. On previous trips he had been one of my biggest supporters. As a historian of the region, Jean passed along a great deal of local lore as well as what he knew of the true beginnings of Post Rock Country. Three of his sibblings are under one stone in the Lucas cemetery, each succumbing to the dust bowl days of the late 20's before they reached two years of age. Jean made it and helped his mother run the family farm through the dirty thirties. He helped bury stone fenceposts as a teenager. Some of those same posts are the ones I brought back to carve in California. I took a photo of Jean in 2012, at the Lucas cemetery, during the Memorial Day celebration put on by the local American Legion. It seemed a fitting composition for his portrait.
- Jensen Mettlen was born in 2002. She is the daughter of John Mettlen, grand-daughter of Richard and Kay Mettlen, my hosts in Lucas, and great-granddaughter of Jean and Mildred Mettlen.  

As I have grown to know and understand Post Rock Country, there are a few things which I have found to be significant about this region of the USA.

First of all, in suburbia, most of us spend Monday through Friday at a job, making or selling a product, for some company, in an office with air conditioning, and get paid a set amount once a week. Meanwhile the people who are farming our wheat and corn, and ranching our cattle, are out there on tractors, seven days a week, and late into the night when it's harvest season; dependent on the weather and old equipment (including themselves), and uncertain of how much money they will make from year to year. They are not spoiled, they are not materialistic, they are not selfish and they are not complainers. 

They do have a ton of character, loads of generosity and a neighborly dose of friendliness. A small town like Lucas, with only 400 people, can't get by unless the people act like neighbors should act. There seems to be a sense of community and cooperation in everything they do. 

This year I carved Bill Francis on a post near his driveway on K232. I chose him mainly for the hat he wore, curled up at the edges, so I could carve the brim. I was happy to hear that he was a musician, known for his guitar playing, singing and infectious smile. 

 
         Stevie Ray Vaughn

This year I can thank Roger Perdue, of Lucas, for commissioning me to carve a portrait of Stevie Ray Vaughn. Indeed another honor. I have admired Stevie as one of the greatest guitar players of our time. His passionate delivery of Texas style blues, both hard and beautiful, is timeless. He tragically died in a plane crash in 1993.

Listen to:
The Sky is Crying
Lenny
Riviera Paradise
Pride and Joy
Tin Pan Alley
Little Wing 

- it's great stuff.
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