Samuel Perry Dinsmoor

 

DINSMOOR, SAMUEL PERRY
(1843–1932)
created the early-twentieth-century
Cabin Home and Garden of Eden
in Lucas, Kansas, one of America’s oldest-surviving and best-preserved visionaryenvironments. Dinsmoor, a Civil War veteran and later a farmer, retired to Lucas in 1905 and, over the next two years, built a three-story, eleven-room house out of local limestone cut to look like logs. Within a few years of completing the
Cabin Home,
Dinsmoor was hard at work on the enterprise for which he soon became morerenowned: the
Garden of Eden
—a half-acre landscape containing about 150 figures and thirty trees, all made by hand from concrete.On the west side of the house, the figures illustrate Old Testament stories; included are Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the Devil, and an angel, all watched over bythe eye of God, its pupil illuminated by an electric light. Dinsmoor’s views of politics and human nature, colored by his populist leanings, are represented in thesculptures on the north side of the garden. Featured here are multi-figure groups, including the Crucifixion of Labor (a martyred working man surrounded by persecutors from the professional class, including a banker, a doctor, a lawyer, and a preacher) and the Goddess of Liberty, who wields a spear upon which is impaleda many-armed monster that resembles a scorpion or an octopus (Dinsmoor’s emblem for corporate trusts).Dinsmoor modeled both trees and figures in place with wet cement, even though some of the trees approach heights of forty feet and some of the figures are wellabove ground. He apparently used a scaffold and worked alone, except for a helper who occasionally mixed cement. Sculptures were reinforced with steel and chickenwire, and carefully finished so that moisture could not penetrate the surface and cause them to deteriorate. The garden must have been well along by 1913, when it wasdescribed by the
Kansas City Star as
“a mecca for tourists”; by 1918 the major sculptural groups on the west and north sides were finished, along with a forty-foot-high, stone-log mausoleum built by Dinsmoor to serve as his own tomb.
Before his death, Dinsmoor had left instructions that he should be embalmed and placed in a coffin under glass in this mausoleum; anyone who paid a dollar was to be permitted to enter and view his body. Although the price of admission has gone up over the years, he is still there, visible under the glass. In all, Dinsmoor’s
Cabin Home
and
Garden of Eden
might just qualify for the accolade that he bestowed upon them in a booklet he provided for his visitors: “The most unique home, for livingor dead, on earth. Call and see it.”
See also
Environments, Folk; Religious Folk Art;

Visionary Art
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Beardsley, John.
Gardens of Revelation.
New York, 1995.Friedman, Martin, et al.
Naives and Visionaries.
New York, 1974