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Serving: KS

Artist’s legacy on display at new Art Environment & Visitors Center

Courtesy of Kansas Tourism M.T. Liggett’s grassroots artwork along US Highway 400 and Kansas Highway 54, near Mullinville, Kan
GRASSROOTS ART: Travelers along U.S. Highway 400 and Kansas Highway 54, near Mullinville, Kan., have for years been fascinated by M.T. Liggett’s grassroots artwork. In early October, the town opened the M.T. Liggett Art Environment & Visitors Center, to share the late artist’s work with fans and detractors alike.
Kansas Tourism: Mullinville, Kan., grassroots artist M.T. Liggett’s life work featured in new art center.

Mullinville, Kan., celebrated (well, probably most of the town) the grand opening of the M.T. Liggett Art Environment & Visitors Center on Oct. 2.

The sometimes controversial, more times than not comical, and most certainly quirky art collection left behind by M.T. Liggett was acquired by the Kohler Foundation after Liggett’s death in 2017. The Kohler Foundation has overseen the preservation, restoration and construction project, and it has gifted the 70-acre property to the 5.4.7. Art Center of Greensburg, Kan., for maintenance and long-term management of the property.

Local voice

Myron Thomas Liggett was born in Mullinville on Dec. 28, 1930, to sharecroppers Wilber and Edna Liggett. In his early adult life, Liggett served in the U.S. Navy for three years and retired from the U.S. Air Force after serving 20 years. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from Fort Hays State University and went on to law school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Throughout his military career and educational endeavors, Liggett still found time to spark love interests all over the world, inspiring some of his most iconic artwork.

Artistic beginnings

His first public display on his property was a gargoyle meant to ward off evil spirits after the fatal poisoning of one of his horses. This display launched what would become one of Kansas’ most unique, self-taught grassroots artists, with a collection totaling more than 600 pieces of work. Totems and whirligigs, some a towering 9 feet tall, line the pasture fence line along U.S. Highway 400 and Kansas Highway 54.

As an equal opportunity offender, many of M.T.’s sculptures, totems and signs (when the artwork itself just couldn’t express his passionate opinions) take aim at local and national politicians, many ex-lovers and wives, and acquittances. Not all of the artworks were provocative; there are also references to Greek mythology, the opera and pop culture. Just as soon as the whirligigs started popping up, so did visitors —who stopped along the highway to see the installations for themselves.

A character

Liggett’s demeanor often reminded me of other denim overall-clad characters I have come to know and love in my own life. He spent much of his time collecting “junk” and tinkering in his dirt-floor barn turned workshop. His instillations were made from an arc welder and plasma cutter with metal found from tractor parts, farm machinery, road signs and other equipment he could get his hands on.

Liggett was an artistic provocateur, loved by many, probably disliked by just as many. In an interview with the Roadside America website (video not available at the moment), he said, “Most people, they ain't got no guts. You gotta have a strong opinion or you're nothing." In his infamously blunt manner, he went on: "When I put up a piece of art, I don't ever ask anybody if they like it or they don't like it. If you like it, that's fine. If you don't, I don't care."

New visitors center

Whether or not you agree with his imaginative and highly opinionated scrap metal art, you will appreciate a visit to the new Art Environment & Visitors Center. Watch the whirligigs come to life, turning and spinning from the infamous wind gusts of southwest Kansas that bounce off the prairie. You’ll have yourself a chuckle as you meander through the signs, as one or two are sure to catch you off guard. The visitors center gives you an up-close look at Liggett and his incredible life. Who knows, you might leave with a better understanding and appreciation of the man and his larger-than-life persona. Or, you’ll leave with some inspiration for the junk you have collecting in your own barn.

Either way, you’ll enjoy yourself at one of Kansas’ most exceptional roadside attractions.

Sharples-Terry is public relations and communications manager for Kansas Tourism.

Kansas Tourism aims to inspire travel to and throughout Kansas to maximize the positive impacts that tourism has on the state and local communities. For more trip inspiration and to order a free Kansas Travel Guide, head to travelks.com.

 

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