Glenn Hammock's Wild and Crazy Life
By Marjorie Lilly
But just stepping back into his mother's house reveals a very different world—his "wild and crazy life," as he puts it.
He'll show you a hand-carved ventriloquist's dummy he calls "Frelix J. Kodiak, International Crime Investigator and Cowboy Poet Laureate"; a company of circus acrobats inspired by Cirque du Soleil; a wooden boy with a frozen, complacent grin on top of a life-sized carrousel horse; a painted figure of his little granddaughter that's made of Honduran mahogany; a carved picture of a man with a donkey and cart against a dreamy, bucolic landscape; and a bird with long legs and spread-out wings. ("Is that a stork or a flamingo?" "I don't know," he replies matter-of-factly.)
Hammock likes everything he does, both the utilitarian and the fantastic. "The whole business is based on having a good time," he says.
His idea of "having a good time" is working 10 to 12 hours a day. "I used to go 20 hours a day and not get tired," he says. Now he spends more time at home with his wife of eight years, Sam Feehan, also an artist.
"I'm taking time off right now for stuff Sam needs," he says. The Windsor chair he was working on was for his mother.
"I don't want to make gobs of money and make kitchens," Hammock goes on. "What's important to me is the aesthetic part of life. I think most people have forgotten about that." He emphasizes, "You have to make life richer."
Since Hammock has lived in Deming he's been influenced by Mexican "cultural flair," although they've never traveled into Mexico. As usual, he's learned from books.
"You look at Mexican furniture, and you see all kinds of influences—German, Dutch, Spanish and Mayan"—he points to these different influences on the decorative elements he's carved on a bookcase he has at home. A sideways bullet shape is a Mayan symbol, and a traditional half-sunburst design is from Spain. The carved pictures on the panels were designed by his wife and represent people they know or pictures from a magazine, giving it a personal, homey feel.
One of their favorite works stands on an end table in their living room. It's a collection of wildly imaginative figures with some of Hammock's extravagant names that collapse pretensions down to nothing. The figures are placed on two circular platforms set inside each other, one turning clockwise and the other counterclockwise, and set in motion by a hand crank.
Hammock sometimes does his carvings on entertainment centers or kitchen cabinets he makes for others. "Usually people will let me do carving to make me feel good," he says. He relies on word of mouth alone and doesn't believe in advertising. "If you do really good work, people will buy it," he says with finality. He's done work for people as far away as Wyoming or Chicago, but most of it is done for locals.
"Here in Deming, New Mexico, I'm actually kept quite busy," he says. He has clients who are ranchers, business people and farmers. "It's really taken hold. People like it." It seems to him that the younger Mexicans tend to like American-style furniture, but "some of the old-time people, they really like that stuff.
"It's very heart warming that people come back and want you to make another piece," he says, and then, in his best revival-meeting style, adds, "Life is good—yes it is!"
But in graduate school he started doing sculptures in bronze. "I didn't like bronze," he says. "Metal was so cold. So I got this idea I'd like to do people and animals in clay." It was only a small step from there to working in wood.
He taught high school for a while, and later at DeKalb University. Then, in a dramatic career shift, he became a union carpenter. He'd go down to a place called Dodge Reports every morning and check the job listings for carpenters. But he'd always do carvings on the side.
Hammock says at first he thought the purpose of doing woodwork was to "take it to extremes, to see what I could make the wood do." When carving an eagle, he would try to give it the widest wingspan possible. "But when I got older, I learned that it's not how extreme you are, but how much life you can put into it," he says. "It's the expression, the stance. It's what you feel."
He brings his trained scientific mind to bear on his woodworking, along with a good dose of home-grown inventiveness.
Because the skinny arms of some of his figures are so fragile, he'll slice them into several 1/16th-inch strips and glue them together to "stabilize" the wood. He says he figured out this technique himself: "The whole idea is you want it to hold up forever."
He makes a balancing toy with maybe a man in a boat on top and a fish at the bottom of a long curved strip of metal representing the fishing line, or a cowboy holding reins at the top dangling a jackass down below. He makes these figures out of 25 or 30 1/16th-inch strips, glues them together, and then bends them into a curve with a U-shaped form he's made. "My wife has to help me do those," he says.
Although he's made lots of Windsor chairs, he follows the directions in a book closely, reproducing the exact angle of the legs. Looked at from the front, the legs "splay," 13 to each side. From the side, the forward tilt of the front legs, called the "rake," is nine, and the rake of the back legs is 17. "This gives an automatic tilt to the chair seat," he explains. "This has been developed over years. It happens, and it's perfect. It's magic. Windsor chairs are magic."
Hammock has stacks of wood drying out in different rooms. "It'll dry from 100 percent humidity down to six percent," he says. "This is probably the last perfect place to air-dry wood. The humidity is low, we have a pretty good warm temperature even in the wintertime, and we have a breeze. In Arizona, their humidity is high."
He gets most of his wood from Austin Hardwoods in El Paso. But friends bring him wood, too. "I'll do a job for them and typically not charge them. They will bring me wood from all over."
Hammock says that after he sells pieces, he feels he has to make things that are "even bigger and better." He's glad he's doing things he has dreamed of doing all his life. "At this point in my life it's like Big Fantasy Time," he says happily.
You could say he's nearly mastered the craft of not taking things seriously.
Marjorie Lilly lives in Deming and writes the "Borderlines"