Roadside Sculptors

Article & Photo by Jyll Phillips
of the Lincoln Sentinel

The Wall Street Journal not only found Kansas, they found Lincoln County, as evident by their front page story in the Feb. 9 issue. Ironically they found us through television.

A public-TV series called "Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations" is a "tongue-in-cheek" tour of 46 of the United States according to the show's Web site. One of the first attractions listed is the "legendary Garden of Eden" in Lucas. In fact, Season One is entitled "Who says Kansas is dull?" They also revisited Kansas in seasons two through five, and again in season nine, which is what caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal.
Apparently, according to the show's producers, Wisconsin and Kansas top the list for eccentric outdoor art galleries.
The WSJ interviewed M.J. Liggett, 79, of Mullinville who has decorated Highway 400 with sculptures made of anything from bowling balls to streetlights and wagon wheels; Frank Jensen, 76, a former high school teacher who has populated a hillside east of Wichita; Jerry Hubbell, 74, who has placed his collection of "Hubble's Rubble" along Highway 99 near Howard; and Lincoln County's own J.R. Dickerman, 50.
Dickerman's Soaring Heart Gallery is near Beverly, and has created his "Open Range Zoo" to promote it. The county's highways are the home of the Open Range Zoo that features nearly 30 of these unique welded metal creatures. The larger pieces are made from farm equipment and some move with the wind. Twenty of creatures can be found along  Highway 18 between mile marker 113 in Ottawa County and Lucas. Three are within the city of Lincoln, another three are within the city of Lucas, two are on I-70 atop a billboard, and one is nearer his gallery.
Dickerman told WSJ that he snuck the first two creatures to the side of K-18 after dark so as not to be identified. When he heard good reviews in town, he admitted they were his.
People use his creatures as landmarks as much if not more than they use mile markers.
"Once I come across that dragon, I know I'm almost to Lincoln!"said Rep. Elaine Bowers, referring to "Dream Dragon IV The Harvester" on K-18 at mile marker 106.
Scrap metal sculptures are becoming a popular art form. No two pieces are identical as each is made of an almost random blend of car parts, farm equipment parts, scrap metal, and/or scraps of metal objects. The artists' personalities are welded into the piece along with the scraps.
Liggett, for example, creates caricatures of political figures, often in unflattering poses, making a caustic commentary on his opinion of politics. His sculpture of Bill Clinton features a padlock welded to his pants zipper.
Six of his pieces are on display at the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore.