Inez Lucile Marshall, one of six children of Philander and Mary (Moore) Marshall, was born May 18, 1907, in Burr Oak, Kansas. At the age of two her family moved to Northbranch, Kansas. Inez graduated from the local schools and then worked at various self-supporting jobs. Her first career was as a barber, but she had to give that up when she got hair in her lungs. Then she became a mechanic and a produce seller, driving her own truck over a multi-state region. Never marrying, Inez was an evangelist for many years in the Church of the Nazarene. She was also an accomplished musician and wrote poetry. But her best-known profession came about in 1937, when a trucking accident kept her bedridden in her parents’ home at Northbranch for a year and a half. In April of 1969 she wrote down the story of that accident and how it changed her life.
“As a result of a truck accident about thirty years ago, I became disabled [and was] later diagnosed as having a broken back. At that time my brother Ray and I each were hauling wheat to the Robin Hood Mill in Sioux City, Iowa, and returning to Glen Elder, Kansas, with loads of corn. On this trip, I had been driving day and night and was just two miles south of Lyons, Nebraska. I dozed off at the wheel for an instant, and aroused to find I had barely missed a bridge abutment and was driving on a very soft shoulder. As the truck was being pulled into the grader ditch, I quickly turned off the ignition switch to avoid a fire. The steering wheel struck me in the abdomen when the truck turned upside-down, and the last I remembered was dirt falling on me through the floorboards. How long I lay there, I don’t know. When I regained consciousness, I climbed through a window and walked to the edge of the road, unaware that I was hurt. Two men (wonderful people) stopped, quickly loaded me into their car and rushed me back toward Lyons. As we rode, I began to feel something hitting my hand. I looked down to discover I was literally drenched in blood from a head wound. These men hurried me to a doctor who gave me a pill, sewed up the two-inch gash in my head, advised me that the shock would be great, but that I would be okay.
I left the doctor’s office, walked one-half block to hire a wrecker to take me back to the truck, get it up upright and back on the road. A friendly farmer came by and offered to scoop the corn back into the truck for me. In payment for this kindness, I had him take the very dirty grain home for hog feed. From that day to this, I don’t remember driving that truck home to Northbranch–crossing a railroad track, passing through a small town, driving up in front of my parents’ house. However, when I stepped out of the truck, it was as if a curtain was lifted, and I fully realized where I was. My precious mother was hurrying toward me crying out, ‘Inez, did something happen?’ I told her there was a little wreck, but I was okay.
She led me to the house exclaiming, ‘You’re white as a sheet!’
My struggle began when, the next morning, I could not get out of bed and looked bruised from head to toe. For a year and a half, I lay in bed unable to gain my strength. One morning, I felt an urge to immediately get to the front door. Mother and Father managed to get me into a rocking chair and then on to the front door. My gaze fell upon a small rock, possibly 2 x 3 inches in size, laying in the yard. Where this came from, I know not, as there were no rocks around our place; and, I certainly wasn’t thinking of ‘rocks,’ as I was in constant pain. I asked my father to please bring that little rock to me. He did. After handling it for a moment, I said, ‘Dad, hand me your knife.’ As though she anticipated my need, my mother quickly brought her ‘dough board’ from the kitchen, covered with a newspaper, and laid it across the arms of my chair. It seemed that someone guided my hand as I began to carve, as I still didn’t have a plan in my mind. As my hands progressed, I soon was amazed to see this little rock turn into a sculptured squirrel with his tail over his back.
As the days rolled by, other things to carve from rock kept coming into my mind. My father arranged for my brother, Ray, to bring a truck load of rock from the farm of Ralph Sherman, a customer of my father’s blacksmith shop. I carved and chiseled that whole load up into small items. Then one night, I talked with my father about selling my carvings, possibly by placing a small advertisement in a magazine. He handed me a dollar, the cost of the ad. I mailed all of my carvings to people responding to this ad, bringing me a return of $167.00. The little squirrel was sold to a lady in Winona Lake, Indiana.
Upon the advise of my doctor, I had to quit work for a short time. My back condition was becoming worse and breathing the rock dust was bothering my chest. After too short a time, I couldn’t resist going right back to it, and Dr. Joe Poppen, formerly of Downs, Kansas, insisted that he would be sending me to Arizona if I didn’t get away from that dust. So, I did stop my carving for a short period of time again. However, plans for larger pieces of sculpturing kept coming into my mind. I felt compelled to find a way to continue my work. This is when I discovered that there was a vein of white limestone in Jewell County. For some time, two ladies and two boys from Burr Oak furnished the white limestone for me to carve.
Chiseling the rock by hand is very slow, and it wasn’t long until I found I could not fill the mail orders fast enough. I was becoming physically weaker, as the effort was too much. So, I had to discontinue the mail order business, and physically rest.
From this point on, I felt that nothing else mattered. My main objective was to chisel rock. Rock, to me, had a very special meaning–it denoted strength, determination, something to anchor to, something to hold steady when all else failed. The word ‘rock’ is used in the Bible so many times. It was just wonderful (and still is) to study rock. So, at night–yes, while it was quiet and people were sleeping–I continued my chiseling of rock. By now, I had so many large pieces completed, I could not find a building in either Northbranch or Burr Oak to house my work. Portis, Kansas, did have a building available to meet my needs; so, I moved to Portis [in 1955], and for a few years continued my sculpturing there.” — Inez Marshall.
The Continental Sculpture Hall, as she named it, displayed nearly 450 works by Inez. Among the more notable pieces: a large white church, complete with preacher, people, and pews; the bandit Pistol Pete holding up a covered wagon; a stone guitar that could be played; a tribute to President John F. Kennedy, which featured an intricately-carved memorial table; and a 1914 Model-T roadster. Carved from a single limestone block, the roadster had a motor, transmission, u-joints, driveshaft, working lights, a radiator that holds water with a screw-down-rock cap, and a steering wheel that actually turned the wheels. Except for a few years in Abilene, Kansas, the Hall remained in Portis as a popular tourist attraction. But eventually Inez’s age and poor health forced the sale of the Hall in 1984 to help defray the cost of her health care. By then Inez had slipped into a coma and so was unaware as her life’s work was broken up and dispersed at auction. She never awoke and quietly passed away October 17, 1984, in Osborne. She was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery.
Inez Marshall’s fame as a sculptress had achieved national proportions during her last few years. After her death the Kansas Grassroots Association mounted a campaign to reassemble her collection in its Grassroots Art Center museum in Lucas, Kansas. Much of Inez Marshall’s most important work can currently be seen at the Center, which devotes an entire wing to this visionary, self-taught folk artist who is the latest inductee to the Osborne County Hall of Fame.
The following photos are of the Inez Marshall Gallery inside the Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, Kansas, All creations were carved by Inez Marshall: