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One Man's Unique Art Draws Roadside Attention

  • Joseph Mok

Driving by Highway US-400, west of the small town of Mullinville, Kansas, visitors are greeted with hundreds of metal sculptures, flapping and twirling against the blue sky on the prairie. For producer Joseph Mok, Elaine Lu has more on 76-year-old grassroots artist M.T. Liggett.

Myron Thomas Liggett, who prefers to be called M. T. Liggett, creates art from junk like abandoned farm machines, car parts, and scrap iron. "If you are doing stone carving, if you make a mistake you're gonna start over," says Liggett. "But with metal, if you make a mistake you just patch it up and go on, and make it look better."

Liggett's most controversial pieces are his "totems." They are political cartoons carved in metal. Displayed alongside his windmills, they form a unique roadside gallery along the fence line of Highway 400.

Egyptian gods, Greek mythological figures, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, and many local celebrities - because he is opinionated, the figures are not always depicted in a flattering light.

Exaggerated portrayals of dozens of women in his life are an ongoing theme in his art. Liggett relishes in telling his "Tokyo Rose" story. "I had a girlfriend that I met in Tokyo. She was lost and down in Ginza," he recalls. "I took her out to the airport on the monorail and I put her on a plane.

"And she, you know the Japanese, they always have flowers on the table. Always! And so, when I got ready to leave, she picked a rose up and she handed it to me. She said I'll see you again. I was 40 years old and she was 19. Well! I come back to the States, and she come and found me," he said.

Fellow grassroots artists and friends, like Tess, Erika Nelson, and Larry Fixit, speak about him with admiration. "He is a very special guy. He loves women. He loves pretty things, simple things. He is a man of very high stature. Big stature," Tess said.

"I am a little more timid than MT. I am still trying to make a living as an artist," said Nelson. "There is some luxury in being able to say, 'I own my own property. I am retired. I have a good income. I can say whatever the hell I want. And I am going to. I aspire to be like MT later on.' I just know that right now I can't."

"I think his art is great," said Fixit. "Many people in town don't, because they are jealous of him. They cannot do it. They did not like the idea of me associate with him, I guess."

To those who do not like or appreciate his art, M.T. Liggett beams a dismissive smile. "If you get bitter, you lose sight, if you get mad about it. You can't do that. Cause I believe only you can make you mad," Liggett said.

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