With the Wall Street Journal now counted as one more national publication having featured his exploits as social commentator/roadside artist; Mullinville's M.T. Liggett doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon.
“No prophet is accepted in his hometown,” Jesus is quoted at Luke 4:24 as having told those gathered in his hometown synagogue at Nazareth early in his ministry. Moments later, in fact, after taking offense at his sermon the hometown folk want to throw Joseph and Mary’s son off a cliff.
Though he wouldn’t compare himself to the founder of Christianity, M. T. Liggett of Mullinville is fortunate there aren’t any steep embankments in western Kiowa County. Junk artists don’t fare much better than prophets amongst their own; especially when the message behind the sculpture strikes close to home, as does the work of Liggett more often than not.
Outside Mullinville, however, Liggett has been recognized repeatedly for his prolific production of metal immortalizations, having erected around 250 pieces since 1989. The latest recognition is a front-page feature in the February 9 issue of The Wall Street Journal. Over the last 15 years, Liggett’s work has also been featured in the Washington Post, New York Times Sunday magazine, Denver Post, Kansas City Star—even a paper printed in Helsinki, Finland. But the Journal, well that’s “the crème do crème,” as Liggett told The Signal Friday.
The feature was written by the Journal’s Stephanie Simon, who spent around three hours with Liggett earlier this month. Pleased with the story, Liggett commented on Simon as “the only reporter I’ve seen who could look me straight in the eye and continue taking notes without once looking down.”
Kiowa County folks are, of course, well acquainted with Liggett’s roadside work, which runs the gamut from a Bill Clinton figure complete with a trousers zipper padlocked in place, to former wives and girlfriends to Mullinville residents who have run afoul of either the law, or Liggett’s sensibilities, or both.
Simon writes at one point of one of Liggett’s “neighbors” telling her “You couldn’t print what I think (of Liggett’s artwork).” Many of Mullinville’s 200-plus souls share that sentiment, while a handful is merely amused by the ruckus.
Local reaction to Liggett’s handiwork, however, won’t be limited to the western end of the county once warmer weather arrives. Once it does, Liggett plans to assemble and then place on “the western edge of Greensburg” his next project—a figure to protest what he views as the Greensburg School Board’s appeasement of Mullinville and Haviland to facilitate the new school in Greensburg becoming the one high school in the county next August—in other words, the recent decision to abandon the red and blue colors of Greensburg High School to adopt burnt orange and white as the new county colors, as well as plans to form a committee to receive suggestions for a new mascot. The Dragons of Haviland and Rangers of Greensburg will be put to rest.
“Ricky Ranger will be crucified,” is how Liggett explains his next project to be placed just inside the west boundary of Greensburg’s city limits. “He’ll be on a 13-foot high cross.” Liggett asked further details of the display not be disclosed in advance of the placement. Asked how soon the artwork will go up, Liggett said, “As soon as we get two warm days in a row.”
Why the mascot crucifixion? “Because Greensburg has given up way too much to placate Mullinville and Haviland,” Liggett said. “They (Greensburg BOE, administrators, etc.) worked too hard to save education in this county and should be able to keep their colors and mascot. The school board betrayed the people of Greensburg.”
The local school board will not, however, be the lone target of Liggett’s displeasure in the coming weeks. Also in his sights is the city council for placing the American flagpole at the rear of the new city hall “rather than out front by the street where it belongs.”
As for the residents of Mullinville, Liggett says they have him “all wrong,” in continuing to “fight me and my artwork.”
“If I put someone from Mullinville up (on a piece of art as a caricature) they deserve it,” he said. “If you behave there’s no reason to put you up.”
When it comes to possible reaction to his planned placement of roadside social comment in Greensburg, Liggett hopes it will motivate a mobilization of populist sentiment.
“If I stir the people up in Greensburg enough they may save Ricky Ranger and the old red and blue,” he said. And if not?
“At least I’ve got my point across,” Liggett said. And for 21 years he’s been doing that without fail. Just ask the folks in Mullinville.