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All of his life, Glenn Clark has been a carpenter. As a kid he built forts, and as an adult he constructed houses. It was a trade he expected to carry him well into retirement. But life is nothing if …
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All of his life, Glenn Clark has been a carpenter. As a kid he built forts, and as an adult he constructed houses.
It was a trade he expected to carry him well into retirement. But life is nothing if not a series of obstacles to overcome.
After an accident left him with a broken back and the recent poor economy made work scarce, the 58-year-old St. Mary’s Glacier resident is building a new life — one guitar at a time.
Shaping a future
Clark grew up in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. His life-long love of working with wood started early when his mother handed him a bucket of nails and a hammer.
“I have these memories of all these bent-over nails, and I remember smacking my fingers back then — and it hurt just like it does right now,” Clark said.
It wasn’t long before his second love came along, when he first picked up a guitar.
“When I was a kid, I started trying to learn to play guitar … I was 14,” Clark said. “Well, I was so shy, plus there were other things to do. I was a good carpenter.”
Clark learned his woodworking trade with gusto, and it eventually brought him to Colorado in 1985. In 1997 he married Sarah Clark, and they eventually moved to St. Mary’s Glacier.
“I was 50 years old, I was healthy, I had a mortgage loan, I was working toward that dream of having a house paid off by the time I hit Social Security,” Clark said. “We were living in a brand-new house that I built. You know, things were going OK.”
Then, on July 29, 2002, Clark fell off the roof of a building he was working on and broke his back.
He is quick to point out that he’s lucky. He was paralyzed for only a short period of time, and he did recover. But he could no longer do what he had done his entire life.
“It made every day, instead of getting up and facing the day, it was getting up to start another period of time that would only be over when I laid back down again — just torture,” Clark said. “People can’t see it. You look at someone who is going through that, (and) you can’t see it.”
Work was difficult, and last year as Clark was beginning to plan for early retirement, the economy went south. He said he needed to find a new occupation he could be as passionate about as he was with carpentry.
“I literally got on my hands and knees, and I prayed, ‘Give me something I can do,’ “ Clark recalled.
He and his wife went on vacation to Sturgis, S.D., so he could think clearly. The answer finally came.
“You take a trip to get a way from your home. You look down and out at that world, and it just came to me — make guitars,” Clark said. “… By the end of that week I said, ‘You know what? That’ll work. I can do that. That’s something I can be passionate about.’ “
Striking a chord
Late last year Clark attended an intensive six-week guitar-building school in Georgia.
“I went to this school, and I lived in a lodge with five other aspiring luthiers, most of them kids,” Clark said.
“They all came with their music backgrounds. (He) came with his woodworking background,” said his wife, Sarah.
For 10 hours a day, six days a week, Clark learned his new trade. At the end of the school, he had two finished guitars, a host of the school’s top awards and a new purpose.
“This came to me, and it’s so perfect,” Clark said. “But the only way you’re going to make it is if you get in there and start making as many guitars as you can and make them as good as you possibly can.”
Using a lifetime of experience of working with wood and his recent schooling, Clark turned his garage into a workshop and got to work.
“I learned what I had to learn to come back here and make guitars with confidence,” Clark said.
The right tune
His hammering days now behind him, Clark said that while everybody has a midlife crisis, his demanded a major change.
“I’m very grateful. I’m a happy guy. (The accident) just created a set of circumstances that forced me to make (a) decision,” he said.
Clark already has sold one guitar and is optimistic about the future.
“I feel like a kid again,” he said. “… I have a job that I can pursue (and) a childhood dream that got left behind that forces me to be around guitars all day, and when I’m not making them — I’m playing them.”
Contact Ian Neligh at firstname.lastname@example.org, and check www.clearcreekcourant.com for updates and breaking news.
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