Sculptor Michael Garman creates realistic figures that offer a slice of life in the West.
Magic Town took years to create and was a huge investment, but he’s extremely proud of the attraction.
Sculptor Michael Garman has never given up playing with dolls. /// As a kid, growing up in Texas, he made small stickmen out of pipe cleaners. His dad, an excellent woodworker and draftsman, taught him how to make “people” out of wire. His brother called them his “dolls,” but to Michael, they were his buddies, each of whom he named. He even made clothes and built forts for them and imbued them with personality characteristics. Eventually, it paid off—big time.
After experiencing a traumatic event in high school, he started drinking. Too much. He “became a vagabond, a ne’er-do-well,” he says, and in 1959, he went on a two-week trip to Mexico that turned into an epic journey ending in Chile. He talked his way into becoming a nonpaying student at a fine arts school, he says, “so I could meet girls.” He soon discovered he had talent as a sculptor. Although the school wouldn’t let him actually attend classes, he was allowed access to materials and could fire his “little figures,” as he calls them, so he could sell them on the street to make money.
Eventually, he returned to the United States, got married, and was on a cross-country trip from Philadelphia to Dallas when he and his pregnant wife stopped in Colorado Springs to visit relatives. They fell in love with the city, rented a house, and had their daughter here. He never left.
Because of his drinking at the time, he knew he couldn’t hold down a regular job, so he tapped his creative talents and began making sculptures to sell. He didn’t make pretty ones. He preferred gritty ones. “I lived on the gritty side of life for a long time, since I was 18,” he says. “I lived in the wino districts in San Francisco, Dallas, and other places. But those people who lived there were always kind to me, and I loved them. They’re my people. I fell in love with the old gritty buildings, too.” So that’s what he created, and the public loved it. In time, he bought a historic building in Old Colorado City and turned it into his own art gallery.
Garman has created 500 different figures over the years, cast in bronze or hand-painted. He used to paint them all himself, but he finally realized that his ego was getting in the way and hired others to help with the color application. He still uses his favorite tool—a dowel with a nail embedded in it—that he’s used for 60 years. “I can’t work without it,” he says.
His works include cowboys, first responders, military figures, and ordinary characters with some rough edges. His Saddle Tramp (a cowboy) and Flying Leather (an old-time aviator) sculptures are among his best sellers. A personal favorite is the lineman climbing a utility pole. He’s sold hundreds of thousands of sculptures over the years to buyers on nearly every continent.
Welcome to Magic Town
Beyond the art gallery, in part of the old building, Garman created a one-sixth-scale neighborhood, including a theater, streets, buildings (a saloon, a barber shop, a hotel, etc.) all in incredible detail. Check out the discarded newspaper in the gutter, which has readable headlines.
The project cost nearly a million dollars and took Garman eight years to complete. Visitors can walk through the streets, look down alleys, watch a group of guys playing craps (a holographic film), spy on a woman admiring her reflection in a hotel room mirror, and witness many other commonplace scenes.
Garman didn’t actually know what a hologram was when he first tried it. He just played with photos and, later, videos, projecting them into the space to create movement and “life.”
It’s inexpensive fun for families—Magic Town had about 22,000 visitors in 2019—with $5 admission for adults and kids getting in free. He’s thinking of raising the price bit in 2021, “but we’ll see,” he says. “I want this to be affordable for everyone.” Throughout November and December, the place is transformed for the holidays: Santa makes an appearance, and It’s a Wonderful Life plays at Magic Town’s Crown Theater.
The sculptures he sells are affordable as well because he has never chosen to limit the number of reproductions. “If I were a poet,” he says, “would I sell my poem to just one person? If I were a writer, would I sell my manuscript to just one millionaire? It’s against my philosophy.”
And he’s not done yet, despite his early health challenges. “I was a functioning drunk till I was maybe 65 or 70,” he says. “I had gone through three rehab centers. None of them took. All of a sudden, in my late 60s, I just didn’t want to drink any more. I quit. It’s the darnedest thing.” After, at one point, being given two years to live while on full-time oxygen and in a wheelchair, Garman got a second chance, and now, eight years later, he’s going strong. At 82, he still wants to add things to Magic Town, “my real love these days,” including computerizing the holograms and adding sound.
He’s not sure how to do it, but he’s sure he will. “I’m not a long-range thinker,” he says. “I’m not a thinker thinker. I just figure things out step by step. I’ll figure this out, too.”
The Michael Garman Museum and Gallery
2418 W. Colorado Ave., 719.471.9391, michaelgarman.com