Exhibits are always changing! Check here for new, upcoming and past exhibitions!
Paint. Paper. Sculpture.
August 2023 - March 2024
Paulette Harp Nicholson
Immerse yourself in the captivating world of artistry brought to life by the talented grassroots artist, Paulette Harp-Nicholson, hailing from Ellis, Kansas. This exhibit has elements of oil paintings, natural wood and bone sculptures, and unique paper cutting collages – all crafted with an incredible touch of creativity.
The natural wood and bone sculptures carry an organic essence, each piece telling a story of its own through the intricate forms shaped by nature's hand.
Join us in experiencing this remarkable fusion of artistic expressions, a testament to Paullette Harp-Nicholson's dedication and ingenuity. This exhibit promises to transport you to a world where materials and imagination converge, leaving you inspired and awestruck by the boundless possibilities of creativity.
Wood & Wire
April 1st - August 11th 2023
About the Exhibit
Still on the Hill
The Ozark folk duo, Still on the Hill curated this exhibit of Ozark instruments. Kelly and Donna Mulhollan (from Fayetteville, Arkansas) have toured the country and Europe for 28 years, keeping Ozark stories alive in song. They stumbled upon Ed Stilley in 1995, when he was still building instruments at a furious pace, and developed a friendship that would last the rest of his life. "The duo discovered Jim Lee in 2009 and were immediately enchanted by his finely crafted instruments. Their friendship with Jim has only deepened over the years. He built several instruments specifically for Kelly and Donna, and they have written several songs based on the stories Jim Lee shared with them.
Ed Stilley of Hogscald Holler, Arkansas At age 50, Ed Stilley (1930-2019) received a pivotal vision. God tasked him to make musical instruments and give them children, and he did just that for about 25 years until his hands could no longer do the work. He made over 200 instruments and gave them all away. Isolated deep in an Ozark holler and without knowledge of how to make a guitar Ed Stilley reinvented the guitar.
The first step was to bend what would become the sides of the instrument. Stilley boiled strips of wood in a hog trough overnight and then threaded the supple pieces through pegs on his makeshift pegboard. After they dried, these pieces would determine the shape. He would join these pieces into a closed form and then fit the arched cross braces. Next, he pieced together whatever local woods he had on hand to form the gracefully arched top and back. The frets are made from brazing rods. The nut and saddle are made from steak bones.
Ed Stilley never considered what he was doing an ‘art.’ It was an act of pure devotion to God. This allowed him the freedom to create without the burden of ego. He wanted you to read True Faith, True Light, and Have Faith in God. He was most surprised to see his work featured at prestigious art exhibits, including the Arkansas State House Museum and the Walton Arts Center. He appreciated the attention, but his driving force remained pure devotion to the end.
Watch video of Ed Stilley at his workshop and playing the handmade instruments here.
For this exhibit, Jim Lee is considered an 'Honorary Ozarker.' A native of Lincoln, Nebraska, he routinely explored the Arkansas Ozarks. On one such visit, Lee stumbled upon Jesse Jones, a legendary old-time storyteller and keeper of Ozark traditions. Jesse was also well known for the pressure cooker banjos he built. The two developed a close friendship, which nurtured Lee's deep and lasting connection with the Ozarks.
For Jim Lee, it is essential to 'know the tree before it could become an instrument.' His relationship with the tree was paramount. His work exhibits superb craftsmanship, respect for the wood, and unique and innovative design features. The carved backs are utterly unique to the guitar-making tradition.
These instruments represent a small sliver of Lee's artistic output. Born in 1936, Jim worked most of his life in a packing plant in Lincoln, Nebraska, and later in construction and as a river guide on the Niobrara River. He still managed to find time to build an astonishing collection of rocking chairs, coffee tables, lamps, covered wagons, picture frames, dioramas, and anything else that crossed his mind. Fortunately, Lee took snapshots of many of his creations, and a good representation of his work can be seen in the scrapbook included in this exhibit.
Watch video of Jim Lee speaking and performing at April Fools A Palooza (4/1/2023) with his handmade instruments here.
Paintings and Environment
Contagious Pernicious Inertia
Nuclear Winter - Kansas
Origin of Fossils
Wichita KS Home
DAN BECK BIOGRAPHY
Dan Beck was the ultimate free spirit and a true Renaissance man. Excelling at debate, he attended the University of Kansas on a debate scholarship and twice competed in the final rounds of the National Championship. After college, he was co-captain of the U.S. International Debate Team. He debated and toured the British Isles, even becoming the debate champion of Scotland. He remained in Europe, working and living in Amsterdam and exploring Europe by train and hitchhiking. Returning to Kansas City, he worked many jobs, including as a lay bell-ringer for the Salvation Army! He moved to Wichita where he taught his wife, Chris how to find the good rocks and she taught him how to silversmith. Eventually he gave back 7 years to debate as the volunteer debate coach at Wichita East High. He mentored scores of students from across the state and the country. After that, he embarked on artistic pursuits full time, sculpting and painting close to 2000 paintings. Inspired by Samuel P. Dinsmore, he installed tons of limestone, sculptures, and flowers in his yard. This work is documented in ‘Grassroots Artists of Kansas’ ( or as Dan liked to call it ‘Kooks of Kansas’), in the PBS documentary Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations: Back to the Breadbasket, and on the Kohler Foundation’s Spaces Archives. The yard installations were included in a tour of Wichita historic homes during the 2000 River Festival. Dan continued to work with young people by volunteering with the 5th grade Interactive Sculpture Project which teamed area artists with students to create art for their schools. Part of the project included a bus tour of Wichita’s outdoor sculpture. Dan’s installations were on the tour and described as an example of ‘The Compulsions to Create.’ In later life, his love of rocks led him to become a jade carver and collector, especially of wearable art. He particularly enjoyed encouraging new carvers by buying their early work. The research skills he learned in debate enabled him to explore and benefit from many cultures around the world. Multicultural elements can be found in much of his work. Dan loved his art. He passed away on August 6, 2020 at the age of 71, leaving an extensive and eclectic body of work.
25 Year Retrospective Exhibit
Discover Midwest Outsider Art at Lucas, KS
November 15, 2020 - October 31, 2021
Outsider, Self-taught, Recycled Art Environments
121 Kansas artists
19 Out-of-state artists
This is Grassroots Art.
Expect the unexpected at the Grassroots Art Center! Exhibits include Midwest self-taught artists that create recycled outsider art environments. Ordinary people have a vision and spend 15-20 years, usually at retirement age, creating an environment around their home. They use unconventional art materials such as limestone, pull-tabs, debris from a lake, and chewing gum. Visitors will be challenged to think, question and laugh out loud.
Click on circular Shop button at top of page for 25 year commemorative exhibit catalog, t-shirt, and mug.
Click on the 25 year exhibit tab at the top of this page to see more photos and extended text about 140 self-taught artists across the nation. The Grassroots Art Center has documented all of these environments.