‘700 years of ideas,’ 75-year-old Garman tells library audience
Just turned 75, Michael Garman regaled an Old Colorado City Library gathering May 24 with stories from his colorful career.
The famous Westside sculptor and business owner also expressed enthusiasm for a future that five years ago seemed improbable. He had been diagnosed with terminal congestive heart failure and given only two years to live. “It was touch and go there for awhile,” he commented in his library talk. Now, with the aid of “new medicine,” he said, “I'm feeling better and better [and] I have 700 years of ideas for my stuff.”
After a preliminary summary of his life from his biographer, Mary Koehler, Garman told the audience about setting out at a young age to make his mark on the world and taking life on a day-by-day basis. At the age of 16, he made a vow to himself never to work for anyone. And even though he did have a few jobs before his sculpturing produced a steady income, he held true to his vow by not taking a paycheck. He also was a bit of a “wino bum,” he recalled with a grin.
Garman's early travels took him through Mexico and South America. As a teen, he studied to be a photographer, with a fascination for shots of strangers and slice-of-life types of scenes. But when he was even younger he'd enjoyed creating little men out of pipe cleaners his dad gave him, learning about perspective as he put them in various types of scenes. So after going to a school of fine art in Santiago, Chile, and finding what he could do with clay, his passion changed - he began shaping unique figures from his imagination instead of seeking them through a camera lens.
Another major influence, Garman noted, was San Francisco, where he lived two years in a rundown area, honing his craft and selling his works to pay the bills. Many of the people he met there he has since recreated in clay for Magic Town, the 3,000-square-foot display that's featured in his Old Colorado City museum and gallery along with reproductions of hundreds of characters he's sculpted.
In San Francisco, he also worked (unpaid) for a theater group, where he learned to build sets and scenes - which later helped him in designing and building Magic Town - and how to manage a business, he said.
In 1971, Garman wound up moving to Colorado Springs in a spontaneous way. “We were passing through on the way to Dallas and my first wife [Mary Pat] was very pregnant,” he said. “We saw a place for rent [just east of the downtown]. It was the cutest little house. We moved in that day.” (A fuller version of the story appears in a museum newsletter, in which he tells how he had broken his ankle while loading a U-Haul to move out of a temporary home in Philadelphia. But he wanted to leave there so much he put off treatment and drove 28 straight hours to Colorado Springs, where Mary Pat had relatives, then collapsed in pain upon his arrival.)
Garman has worked out of the three-story building at 2418 W. Colorado Ave. since 1975. He likes to create alone, using wire to form a new shape (similar to the original pipe-cleaner men). He doesn't necessarily go in with a plan: “When I start, it may be a guy holding a saddle, and it winds up a guy in a bar.”
Asked if he had studied anatomy, Garman replied, “Gosh yes,” but admitted being a “terrible student” and he didn't enjoy it. “The joy is in having learned it, not in doing it,” he said.
Magic Town came together much like his characters, a piece at a time, based on his evolving vision. He's had some exotic ideas for additional “special effects,” such as lighting that would show the town in a sunrise-to-sunset manner. “All of that is possible,” he said, “but very expensive.”
Garman devoted part of his talk explaining why he chose to make reproductions instead of one of a kind. A big reason is that with copies the sale price can be lower. “I'm the artist you can afford,” he said.
According to his website, “in the past five years, Michael Garman has released 20 new sculptures, participated in two documentary films, expanded Magic Town... and overseen the conversion of his gallery into a museum dedicated to exhibiting his work and honoring American Heroes from all walks of life. Not a bad start to retirement.”
Garman will also be present for the monthly Old Colorado City ArtWalk Friday, June 7 from 5 to 8 p.m., providing guided Tours of Magic Town.
Westside Pioneer article