A Magical mystery 

Uncertainty reigns in the land of Michael Garman's little people

click to enlarge Michael Garman reflects on his years of sculpting, which are - coming to an end. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Michael Garman reflects on his years of sculpting, which are coming to an end.

By now, you've likely heard: Michael Garman Galleries, which for decades has been a delightful Old Colorado City fixture, will close. But will it really? Completely?

No one seems ready to answer that question yet. Certainly not Michael Garman.

Garman returned to his gallery Monday from his home in Germany to hold a press conference and say goodbye to friends and old customers. At 70, Garman says he has been told by doctors that he has just a few years to live because of congestive heart failure. He says he's not afraid of death, but he is worried about what will become of his sculptures.

Of greatest concern is his masterpiece, Magic Town, a miniature city filled with rag-tag characters, flashing lights and now-you-see-it-now-you-don't holograms. It's a dollhouse dream, and the thought of packing it into storage is clearly heartbreaking to Garman.

"I want people to be able to see this," he says. "This is Americana, and I've seen nothing like it."

Garman says he has no plans for Magic Town, which currently draws tourists who pay up to $5 admission just to look at it. He'd love to see someone take it to museums across the country. Or he might sell it to someone who would agree to display it here or somewhere else. Finally, he could simply pass it down to his children.

Garman's two daughters don't want to run the gallery. One lives in Germany, and the other, Vanessa Garman, who currently serves as the gallery's chief operating officer, longs to move back to California and launch her own career. Only Garman's son, Mike Garman Jr., has expressed an interest in taking the gallery over, but Garman seems hesitant to hand it down.

"There's just some difficulties with that," Garman says reluctantly, noting that he worries that any perceived imbalance of inheritance between his children would lead to friction.

For a while, Garman Jr. seemed to be his father's logical successor. He sculpted in his dad's shop for over a decade, and ran the gallery for years. He says he was fired by his father last December, due mostly to disagreements about who should take credit for the younger Garman's sculptures.

The feud ended on a sour note; the elder Garman thought his son's figurines were too similar in style to his own, according to Garman Jr., and served a legal order to cease their production.

Up until then, Garman Jr. says, he had been trying to convince his father to sell him the gallery. Now Garman Jr. plans to become a firefighter, while sculpting and teaching art on the side. Eventually, he says, he'd like to open up an art institute.

"I don't hold it against him," he says of his dad. "I was hurt, but for God's sake, I still love the man. He's my father."

Vanessa Garman says current plans are to stop producing sculpture replicas on Dec. 31. The shop will then stay open until it runs out of inventory, though the family will hang onto Garman's original pieces.

In the meantime, she says, she'll be scouting for a new home for Magic Town. So far, she's heard from at least one business with an interest in the miniature neighborhood. Garman's daughter says she would "love [Magic Town] to stay in the family," so long as it doesn't linger in storage. But earlier this week, she seemed unaware that her brother may still want to run the gallery.



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