Backyard Visionaries

Grassroots Art in the Midwest

Edited by Barbara Brackman and Cathy Dwigans

On the front page of the New York Times Book Review, artist Red Grooms once exclaimed that grassroots artists "are so interesting I can scarcely keep them out of my dreams—visionaries who turned their visions into art on a grand scale even though they had no training in art." In this lavishly illustrated volume, the authors illuminate and celebrate these "backyard visionaries" and the remarkable works they've created in the Midwest.

Grassroots art (sometimes referred to as "outsider art") has been variously described as "eccentric," "unschooled," "self-taught," "primitive," and "raw." Such art is characterized by the use of common, unconventional, or castoff materials; hodge-podge styles; ambitious scale; whimsical expression; and a creative impulse concerned more with the artist's own pleasure than with the critical reception of the work itself.

“Books that are useful, that show visually where the “stuff” was created, as this on does, and incorporate telling quotes from knowledgeable sources to connect with the work, are valuable resources for the casual reader as well as museum personnel. Backyard Visionaries is clearly one of those.

—Great Plains Quarterly

“Brackman and Dwigan’s attempt to define grassroots art is helpful, but their effort to place this art in a social context is even more gratifying.

—Annals of Iowa
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The authors here focus on examples of grassroots art environments—which include sculptures, paintings, and assemblages—in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Oklahoma. They reveal the special character and unexpected delights of works like Samuel P. Dinsmoor's world-famous "Garden of Eden"; Claude Melton's quirky "Nativity Rock Museum"; Ed Galloway's fabulous six-story "Totem Pole" honoring Native Americans; and Dave Woods's idiosyncratic creations refashioned from "junk that most people would haul to the dump."

Written by members of the Kansas Grassroots Art Association-the oldest organization in the country dedicated to preserving such sites—Backyard Visionaries describes the authors' personal experiences of the artists and their work as well as the artists' cultural contexts and influences. More than 150 photographs—many in color—capture their unusual creations, and a chapter on preservation tells how we can help maintain them. All in all, this is a fascinating tribute to a group of artists that we are only just beginning to understand and appreciate.

About the Author

Barbara Brackman, a freelance writer who specializes in folk arts, is the author of Clues in the Calico: A Guide to Identifying and Dating Antique Quilts and coeditor of Kansas Quilts and Quilters. Cathy Dwigans is responsible for program development for the Self Graduate Fellowship of the University of Kansas and formerly was a senior program manager in the continuing education division. Both are founding members of the Kansas Grassroots Art Association.