Michael Garmen was an eight year old Texan when he began sculpting his little chaacters. ''My Dad was a very fine artist, he was the one who showed me how to make little pipe cleaner men.'' in no time the young artist began also fashioning backgrounds for them to inhabit, to bring more life and excitement to his childhood art. He liked to look at his Father's art books, particularly the ones dealing with anatomy. Garmen said he was essentially building ''doll houses, macho doll houses."
The young Michael barely got through high school. But a favorite uncle had taught him photographey when he was 16, and Garmen ''fell in love with it immediately.'' About the same time Garmen graduated high school, he made a vow that he would ''never work for anybody'' but himself, and he knew he was going to make his living to doing art. He apprenticed to a Fort Worth photographer, cleaned the darkroom, slept on the studio floor and honed the craft. He even went to Texas Christain University ''for about an hour and a half, to live up to the promsie he made his father.
The photographic exercises further developed his artistic skills. ''God, it worked out beautifully'' he said of his internship with Los Angeles fashion photographer Tommy Mitchell. ''I learned more than I ever would have at school,'' he told a journalist. Obviously the artist was not flush with money at this time, and he developed a way to get a free meal. He would go in a resturant, have a meal, and when it came time to pay he'd tell the waitress he's forgotten his money. ''I had to quit that,'' he said. He ate regularly, and soon forgot which diners he'd scamed. ''I'm not proud of that, but I was young,'' he remembers. He later found an Italian joint where he could eat as much as he wanted if he just bussed tables for the evening. By now the young Garmen was getting wanderlust, and with about $35 in his pocket, he took his Nikon camera, filled a duffel bag, and started heading South, to Mexico. ''I'd go down for a couple of weeks at a time, and I kept going farther and farther South.'' When his $35 dollars ran out the enterprising hiker worked for his meals in Mexican restaurants. ''Back then, 40 years ago, $35 would last you a long time in Mexico, ''he said." No one I asked hired me, but everyone fed me.'' Soon he was traveling as far south as Guatemala, San Salvador, Managua, and cities in between. That was before the Pan American Highway was finished, and Garmen left no trepidation taking on a 100-mile walk.
Sometime during those sunny esploits in South America, Garmen started fashioning crude sculptures from the Mexican clay, which he would sell door to door in the small cities and towns. He discovered his sculpting talents after talking his way into free admittance at a South American art school. ''I discovered I could sculpt,'' he said of that early 'aha' moment. He discovered many ways to sell his product, sometimes masquearading as an Irishman, as Americans weren't popular at the that time. Soon he put together a stash large enough to get back to the United States, and set up show in San Francisco. ''Like a book salesman I sold my sculptures door to door,'' he said.
In the early 1960's, back in the United States, he spent several years in Dallas improving his product. His sculptures became more detailed. Garmen sculpted the everyday people he loved so much. Garmen made good money, but did not want to sell originals, so he learned how to cast.
Garmen returned to San Francisco, worked as an actor in the theater for a while, but eventually returned to sculpting. He married and spent three more years in California. Garmen's famous city scenes were already taking place in his mind, and hearing the old part of Philadelphia was being torn down, he headed to the city of ''brotherly love.'' There he studied the city's old buildings, the architecture, the construction methods, the characters and their denizens.
Garmen hated to leave his studio above the old Pitcock Drug Store in Manitou, but he needed more space. That's when he purchased his present studio, retail store and home in old Colorado City. There he started building Magic Town, one of his proudest achievements. Magic Town is a tiny city, perhaps from the 1950's through the early 1960's. It is not only a static display, but includes the use of DVD to project holographic images onto invisible mirrors in the ''wall.'' Peek into a window and you might see a woman getting ready for bed. Seconds later the scene morphs into something else altogether. The scenes are freeze-frames from life. As in any town there are lots of buildings, and lots of people. Walk around the block in Garmen's 'Antwhere America,' and you'll experience them all. The 'wall' scenes Garmen created are small pieces of Magic Town, and collectors can build their own cities, choosing their own characters to populate them.