New visitor's center near Mullinville opens featuring the metal artwork of M.T. Liggett

Edward J. Naughton
Kiowa County Signal
Taking part in the grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony for the M. T. Art Environment vistor's center earlier this month were (from left) Ann Dixson, M.T. Art Environment Director; Andy Kimball, Mullinville Mayor; Larry Meeker, M.T. Liggett Trust; Lisa Hood, M.T. Liggett Trust; Beth Wiza, Kohler Foundation Preservation Coordinator; Erika Nelson, Exhibit Curator and Art Preservationist; Matthew Farley, Art Preservationist.

On October 2, 2021, a Saturday 2 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the official opening of the M.T. Art Environment visitor center near Mullinville. Director Ann Dixson said she was relieved and happy to see months and years of long planning become reality, all for the benefit of tourism in the local area as well as preservation of intriguing metal art now shareable with a wider world.

Myron Thomas (M.T.) Liggett became famous for creating politically charged, sometimes comic or slightly infuriating metal totems and whirligigs. In his lifetime, he created a line-up of pieces that fill a roadside pasture fence along US Hwy 400 and Kansas Highway 54 in Kiowa County

One never knows what might be just around the corner at the M.T. Liggett Art Environment visitor's center near Mullinville, now open to the public.

Liggett died in 2017, well into his 80s after living a long adventure-filled life. He was a military veteran of many years service and his family line has a long history in Mullinville.

His 70-acre property in Mullinville has about 600 small and large metal totems that tenderly lampoon politicians whether local, state or nationally known figures, or anyone else who caught his attention including old girl-friends, all designed and created by Liggett.

"We served cookies at the grand opening event that had little hearts on them because M.T. liked to make heart shapes in his sculptural works," Dixson said.

Coffee cups for sale in the lobby of the new art venue and also have stickers with hearts on them, as do kitchen magnets and other items, from which sales help raise money towards the upkeep of the center.

Dixson said she was a friend of M.T. for many years and was proud to now serve as director and site steward for this center. She credits the work of many volunteers to keep the grounds well-kept and secure, and to man the visitor center during open hours.

"Recently we had a visit from the public television station PBS," she said.

Many others have also already come to see the visitor center, now open to the public for viewing from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

The Kohler Foundation of Wisconsin provided much in the way of project direction, encouragement, administrative support, funding, technical assistance and guidance all along the path and they continue that help to this day. 

Elizabeth Wiza, Preservation Coordinator at the Kohler Foundation, plus others from her home office attended the grand opening to celebrate the culmination of hard work to preserve Liggett's artwork legacy.

Dixson, along with her husband Bob Dixson and a dedicated staff of volunteers, have helped prepare expansive grounds of the property with the use of a tractor by Tod Alexander, who is owner of Alexander Trucking and a member of the Mullinville city council. Their work, inside and outside the new visitor's center is now a focal point of the visitor's who come, drawn by the thought-provoking work of Liggett.

During a "Hatteberg's People" Kansas television interview in 2010, when Liggett was at the height of his metal-art career, he was quoted as saying: "I can make my thoughts known on a piece of art like an author does a book."

In his own words, recorded for history, M.T. said he preferred the term KANZA to be associated with his inspired metal sculpture projects and totems. Some of his most controversial and slightly sarcastic sayings are placed throughout the exhibit section of the center on the first floor. 

Push-button devices near certain art displays at the center start video clips rolling that feature Liggett working and speaking from previously-aired radio and television specials.

In one section of the exhibit there is on display a copy of a letter Liggett wrote when he was unsatisfied with someone or something someone had done, which of course was something he was well known for. In other words, he was not reticent to express his very sober feelings in response to a problem that presented itself or even an accusation he suffered. 

Liggett became somewhat famous for telling people what he thought, employing very little modesty in the process, whenever that opportunity to speak arose. Of course he often used his metal sculptures to embody some ideal or statement; however, at times true meaning seemed buried in a unique kind of mystique only he himself knew.

One Liggett quote on coffee cups for sale in the center reads: "Most people, they ain't got no guts. You gotta have a strong opinion or you're nothing." MT Liggett.

Art exhibit curator and preservationist Erika Nelson said she was justifiably proud to have been a part of this project and putting everything together took much time and patience. She said members on the board of the M.T. Liggett Trust, namely Larry Meeker, Lisa Hood, and retired journalist Larry Hatteberg, are also proud to have been integral to the funding and development process that went into making this dream a reality. 

Director Dixson said that people who want to know more detail about the center, they may visit the following website online: mtliggettartenvironment.org. They can access this site to donate to the MT Liggett Environment visitor center, if they prefer.