8 Wonders of Kansas art

An 8 Wonder of Kansas Art

M.T. Liggett's Metal Sculptures, Mullinville

Address: U.S. 400, just west of Mullinville
Website: www.roadsideamerica.com/story/11212

M.T. Liggett's metal sculptures are an 8 Wonders of Kansas Art finalist because of his fantastical roadside signs and whirligigs that are the background for his car-stopping political opinions.

Residents of tiny Mullinville, in Kiowa County, are used to the sound of screeching brakes on Route 400, just west of town. No, the city hasn't put in a speed trap. There are no barriers to the smooth flow of traffic.

Except for one thing.

Make that hundreds of things - hundreds of windmills and whirligigs; fantastical birds, demons, dragons and bugs; gnarly characters with long, warty noses, buck teeth and springs popping out of their heads; chickens wearing boots, a gigantic green alligator, a snowman with a rooster on his head, pot-bellied men, befanged women...all made of welded and brightly painted scrap iron.

And if all this weren't enough, many of these bizarre metallic cartoons bear captions that are the last word in political incorrectness.

The creator of this display of political commentary and folk art, M.T. Liggett has been called many things - a prairie populist, an equal-opportunity annoyer, a grouch. He's ornery, cantankerous and contrary, but so funnier than - well, than his icon Ted Turner as a big green nerdy lizard. Wearing a neck tie.

Liggett, 73 (in 2004), traveled the world during his military career, but never really strayed far from Mullinville. "I've had the same mailing address for 73 years. I was born in a claim shack on that hill," he says, gesturing towards the pasture where his crazy mishmash of satirical artwork spins and bobs in the prairie wind.

Liggett is a big fellow with iron-gray hair, large workingman's hands, and a loud, gruff voice. He typically wears bib overalls and looks as if he's ready to climb into the cab of a combine. He works in an old barn on Elm Street.

Castoffs and pieces of unfinished projects are everywhere - an iron cut-out of a strange bird with big feet, a disembodied arm cut from metal, a cylinder bar from a combine, a center-rim truck tire, more junked road signs, a shank from a fertilizer applicator, tilling discs, rotary hoe wheels - fits and starts of Liggett's metallic lampoons and cartoons, which he calls "totems."

Liggett's main "gallery" is a pasture he owns on the 400 Highway, just around the corner from his workshop.

Liggett's love of color and controversy extends to his kaleidoscopic house, called the "wacky shack," which is painted in dizzying rainbow of bright colors - red, green, blue, yellow, aqua, pink, 26 in all. He painted his house in Crayola colors after a city official told him he couldn't.

"I'm just a little bit ornery," he said, smiling."

Source: Excerpts from Mary Hooper's article about M.T. Liggett story in The Legend, Summer 2004.

The Grassroots Art Center in Lucas owns and displays more than three dozen Liggett sculptures.