Ashlar| ashˈ lər |
(noun) Hewn or cut stone.
As we wrapped up our delightful stop in Lucas, we had come to realize that art was simply everywhere in this little Kansas town ~ from back yards to public restrooms to telephone poles ~ even ‘neath Lake Wilson. It was accessible art, art that showcased grit, determination and the inherent need to create … using whatever materials were handy. So it was no surprise that some intrepid soul had transformed the region’s ubiquitous stone fence posts into sculptures.
Even without the handful of posts-turned-sculptures, the 18-mile Post Rock Scenic Byway is worth seeing. The route winds through the Smoky Hills along K-232 from I-70 to K-18, connecting the towns of Wilson and Lucas. The rolling hills provide scenic vistas, and Lake Wilson has several overlooks and trails.
The area’s early settlers used what was available when they built their farms here. In the largely treeless prairie, that just happened to be native limestone, which proved to be both functional and enduring. And while the area’s rich deposit of folk art was an added bonus, it seemed fitting to finish our “Geologic Wonders of Kansas” tour where it started: with a geology lesson.
The ancient Cretaceous seabed that once bisected the continent helped create the impressive chalk formations and badlands we had already explored in western Kansas. But here, further east, the Dakota Formation sandstone is what remains of beach sands and sediments dumped by rivers draining into that early sea. The Smoky Hills and other surprising rocky outcrops are part of this geologic formation.
The next outcrop belt is Greenhorn Limestone, which is made up of narrow chalky limestone layers alternating with thicker beds of grayish shale. Part of this deposit contains a bed called Fencepost limestone, a chalky limestone of fairly uniform thickness. The immense layer is about three feet beneath the surface, which prevents tree growth. Thus it is both the problem and the solution when seeking a building material. When freshly quarried, it is soft enough to be cut, notched or drilled; however after prolonged exposure to air, it hardens and becomes weather resistant.
But since this is the folk art capital, ordinary fence posts aren’t going to stay that way for long. Enter Fred Whitman, a dentist turned sculptor from California. Fred’s began carving stone when a bad back ended his dental career. This was a common thread among the folk artists we discovered: injury or illness forced an unexpected change, giving artists the time to develop their creative outlet.
Fred carved seven fence posts in and around Lucas. The prairie was his studio, and the posts are still serving their original purpose, standing tall for you to enjoy. Finding some of them will require pulling onto side roads and walking. They blend in well, so you will miss them if you are driving past. And a couple are on private property, so be respectful. The subjects are supposedly Lucas residents.
Here’s where they are located:
- (little boy looking up) Grassroots Art Center Courtyard
- (little boy “taking a break”) 120 S. Duwe Ave.
- (man with top hat – not pictured here) 604 First St.
- (airplane mechanic) Highway K-18, Lucas Airport fence line, six posts east of the metal red apple sculpture).
- (man with cowboy hat) Highway 232 between mile marker 16 and 17, three posts south from drive on the east side of the highway.
- (woman with rabbit) Highway 232 between mile marker 14 and 15, five posts south from Saline Road on the west side of the highway.
- (woman with sunflower) Highway 232 between mile marker 12 and 13, six posts south from Decker Road, east side of highway.
Fred has carved a vast array of other works as well as a bust of one of Kansas’ most famous native sons, Bob Dole, which resides in front of the Russell County courthouse in nearby Russell.
As we bid a fond adieu to Lucas, we were headed home with just one stop left on our Geologic Wonders of Kansas trip: Rock City (not the one advertised on all the barn roofs).
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