Every day, many people walk the streets in downtown Charleston and rarely do they stop to see a small, figure which sits high atop the Gates building on Capitol Street.
He’s considered West Virginia’s smallest piece of public art. That’s right; Art. He’s a hidden treasure that, over the years, has become an icon.
“It’s a little bit of excitement,” said Mike Young, who leads the Mountain State Food Tours. “When people first see him. it’s hard to know what it is.”
Meet Mortar Man! He has become a top tourist attraction and a popular feature of the food tour.
“He’s probably the most pictured. People take pictures of mortar man probably ore than anything else in downtown Charleston especially from an architectural standpoint. It’s unique and unusual,” said Young.
And his legend is filled with mystery. Just ask his creator; artist P. Joseph Mullins.
Almost 30 years ago during a lunch break on a renovation job, Mullins tinkered with some leftover concrete mortar and carved out Mortar Man: a two inch marvel.
Mullins admits that Mortar Man was a joke at first, until someone discovered him.
“About three years later, some policeman spots him up there, so the whole mortar man legend or whatever it was .. starts,” said Mullins.
And the legend of Mortar Man began.
“So finally Mortar Man says I am coming out from hiding. I’m coming out of the bricks … made a declaration of my humanity kind of thing,” said Mullins.
Let’s face it. Nowadays, a declaration is barely heard unless it’s made on social media. So yes , Mortar Man even has his own Facebook page. Not to mention numerous appearances on websites across the world. His appeal is practically universal.
There was even a time where someone tried to steal Mortar Man.
“Anytime you make a piece of art, you have to have some mystery and some unanswered questions. so that the audience… the viewer can bring their own experiences to that piece,” said Mullins.
Some people spend time with the Mortar Man to reflect, maybe ask for advice. They connect with him.
He’s like a champion of the working class.
“Mortar Man represents every little man in the world,” said Mullins.
So next time you are walking down Capitol Street, look up and you will spot the little man that symbolizes the hard-working people who go through life – not seeking recognition – but they are the strong ties (the mortar) that binds us all.