Driving through southwestern Kansas, I approached the berg of Mullinville, Kansas, population 255. My pea-green bus was greeted by an incredible collection of folk art that lines the property of artist M.T. Liggett along Highway 400 … and on around the corner … and back to his workshop.
The garish beauty of the scrap metal totems (some three times as tall as a man), whirligigs, and scathing caricatures of famous people jived with my mode of transportation.
I believe the sign out front says, “The World’s Largest Collection of Coffee Stirrers.” Get it? Largest stirrers, not largest collection. I’m a sucker for clever.
Most of the pieces in this collection are named (e.g., Macbeth, Romulus and Remus, Bubba Clinton, and some for the artist’s personal acquaintances). The construction and composition of Liggett’s art impress me greatly. The layers of meaning in some of the sculptures left me standing at the side of the dirt road, as agape as I’ve ever been in the world’s finest fine art museums.
If ever in your life you do make it to Mullinville, and if the old guy with the arc welder is still around, maybe you can strike up a conversation and hear him utter a gem like this: “You can make millions, and millions, and millions and have a big ranch and do all of this other kind of stuff and you’re dead 10 years and everybody forgets about you. This stuff will be here in a hundred years. So I have left a legacy. I’m going to be here.”
I know it’s another long shot, but if you someday stop off of I-70 to visit the Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, Kansas, Liggett’s work is on permanent display there, too.