When artist Erika Nelson first came to Kansas, she was fascinated by the folk art. On Friday at the annual Friends of the Plains Dinner at the Granada Theater, she gave a presentation which consisted of an explanation and exploration of Kansas’ notable folk artists.
“Folk art is about untrained artists that are doing something really spectacular and amazing with, a lot of times, ordinary materials used in extraordinary ways,” Nelson said. “They are some of my favorite stories of eccentrics from Kansas.”
Nelson is a working artist credited with the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things. She said that she also does a lot of public art projects, such as large scale installation art, murals and workshops with kids like spam carving or art book trash.
“People bring me in when they want something that pushes the boundaries of normal art making,” Nelson said. “(Friends of the Prairie) hired me to come and speak to the group as a reflection of the history and heritage of Kansas, and it is also such a fun visual talk they thought it would be a good fit. It has always been a hit with people who are interested in the history of their area.”
Jim Hoy, director of Great Plains Studies and professor of English, said that Nelson’s talk fit in with the dinner because Friends of the Plains are people from the surrounding areas that have an interest in the history and culture in the grassland region.
“We have a speaker every year. We have had a lot of great speakers, and I think Erika’s cultural talk was really interesting,” Hoy said.
Nelson started off her presentation by explaining what folk art is and then continued with what that means in Kansas. She presented the audience with a plethora of Kansas folk art wonders, such as S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden in Lucas.
This site is a massive sculpture garden made by a Civil War veteran. It was started in 1904 when Dinsmoor was 64 years old. The garden tells stories from the Bible as well as political events.
Another such wonder that Nelson presented was the totem fence line of M.T. Liggett. This piece uses junked farm machinery, car parts, road signs and railroad equipment to make his sculptures. Nelson said that his inspiration for his sculptures comes from anything that has or is making him mad. The totems cover a large stretch of fence line along Highway 54.
“In some spots he has two or three rows of totems,” Nelson said. “There is a lot that makes this guy mad.”
Among Dinsmoor and Liggett, Nelson also mentioned several other folk artists that make art with cardboard, wheat, and left over wood and metal. She closed her talk with a woman that used a modified blind contour method, which is drawing something without looking, to create drawings and paintings expressing her moods and everyday life.
The audience clapped and laughed at nearly every slide. Among the audience were ESU faculty and staff such as President Michael Shonrock and his wife Karen, Larry Schwarm, photography professor, Jim Ryan, communication and theater professor, amd Ellen Hansen, associate professor of social sciences.
“(The presentation) was great,” Shonrock said. “Watching and learning about the folk art and the treasures of Kansas was just really fun. I want to meet the angry guy.”
Laura Eddy, director of Admissions, said that she has lived in Kansas all her life, but she learned a lot about Kansas and that she wants to see some of the folk art Nelson presented.