What's the matter with wacky nutjob artists in Kansas?
June 1, 2005 8:39 AM   Subscribe

J.P. Dinsmoor fought in the Civil War and had two children in his eighties. He was a die-hard Populist, the first resident of Lucas, KA to go electric and when he died he was mummified. Somewhere in there he had time to build The Garden of Eden, discussed in "What's the Matter With Kansas" and contrasted with this wingnut.
And they're both called Populists.
posted by gilgamix (10 comments total)
Why does it surprise you that two "Populists" should have different political views? In early california, the anti-slavery and anti-chinese movements were both "populist", though we'd consider them on opposite ends of the political spectrum today.

Bear in mind that the "populace" is a complex, many-spendored thing.
posted by freebird at 9:22 AM on June 1, 2005

That's populist with a lowercase "p". That makes sense, it's a pretty simple word. And you're right, the populace it refers too takes different forms at different times (and sometimes all at once.)

But Populism with a big P has specific realworld political aims and they don't generally coincide with a Rush '96 sensibility.
posted by gilgamix at 9:43 AM on June 1, 2005

A little off topic, but I believe Liggett is interviewed in this short video. Its pretty fucking funny.


posted by H. Roark at 10:04 AM on June 1, 2005

KA = Kentuck-ay?
posted by fleacircus at 10:25 AM on June 1, 2005

Yeah, but even your (wikipedia) link makes clear that "big-P" populism has a pretty wide range of interpretations, from agrarian-fascism to jingoistic socialism. You think Father Coughlin fits Populism but Rush doesn't? Why?
posted by freebird at 10:29 AM on June 1, 2005

First, it is S.P., not J.P. Second, it is KS, not KA.

Other than that, if you are ever near Lucas you should definitely stop by Dinsmoor's house.
posted by sp dinsmoor at 10:32 AM on June 1, 2005

And had a child bride whose face haunts me to this day.
posted by m@ at 11:29 AM on June 1, 2005

Dammit, I just had a really long post and lost it.

Here's part of it:
I did my master's thesis on political outsider art in KS. SP and Lucas were a focal point. Lucas is the Grassroots Art Capital of KS (yes, it is self appointed by the town, but I don't think anywhere else could claim it) and the Grassroots Art Center has pieces by Ed Root, Inez Marshall, Liggett, and others.

Kansas had/has way more outsider artists than you would think, especially around Lucas, where people like Florence Deeble grew up watching Dinsmoor build. For good measure, I'll throw in Grandma Layton as well, who, although she took an art class, is still considered an outsider artist. If you work with your hands all of your life (as many of these people did) and you retire, what else are you going to do to keep your mind occupied (or, in the case of Inez Marshall, to make money)?

Liggett isn't a wingnut, but he is a brilliant attention whore. I interviewed him for the paper and have a wonderful exegesis on the f word from him. I'll have to dig it out sometime soon and watch it. Plus, populism whether it be in the early 20th or early 21st century isn't really about progressive/liberal, it is one (from the wiki post) "that holds that the common person is oppressed by the 'elite' in society." William Jennings Bryan is a famous example of a populist in the early part of the 20th Century (motivated by Christian values) who was very different from Dinsmoor. In fact, that's usually what is cited as bringing the party to a grinding halt the first time--the only thing anyone could agree on was that the poor/working class were getting screwed.

Wow, I knew college would come in handy one of these days.

And m@, that is so true. She's so beautiful, but the picture freaks me the hell out every time I see it.
posted by sleepy pete at 1:46 PM on June 1, 2005

Lucas really is extraordinary. You can go to Florence Deeble's little house, walk through her sculpture garden unimpeded, and look straight over to Dinsmoore's lattice of the crucified common man. The folk museum's dinky web page belies the range and wit of its collection. If you drive around the outskirts you can see anonymous fields dotted with sculptures hewed out of post rock. SP obviously had one hell of a lot of charisma -- somewhat the way that an alarming number of people who listened to the Velvet Underground then tried to start a band, if you see SP's house, the odds that you will try to do something creative with rock, ink, or discarded mannequins just rocket through the roof.

But Grannie Layton -- she really gets my heart. I've always wished there were enough about her on the web to give her some front page time. I see her line emulated by lesser local artists constantly, and it's easy to mistake her for kitsch, but she's really not. I truly wish more people outside of KS (have mercy, gilgamix!) could see her work up close.
posted by melissa may at 2:36 PM on June 1, 2005

Sorry for the double comment, but one more thing about MT Liggett. He has two bachelor's degrees, in history and political science, and a master's in criminal science from UNLV. Not exactly a hillbilly outsider, but nobody ever really mentions that (probably because he won't let them--he made me sign a release form and was adamantly opposed to me pointing out that he was educated in a stupid master's thesis that only my parents have even looked at. And they didn't read it, trust me). I'm glad he's still around; when I talked to him 5 years ago he had just been diagnosed with cancer. I'm sure he'll run for some county office (and lose, as he always does, because everyone in the county thinks he's insane) in the next election.
posted by sleepy pete at 7:47 PM on June 1, 2005

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