Full Interview Here:
October 4, 2018
Curt Hammerly grew up in Colorado. “I was not a super happy kid, not a super happy teenager,” he admits. He’s the oldest of three siblings whose parents, two public school teachers, spent much of their home time deep in argument. Curt became a rebellious teen who struggled to find purpose in his middle and high school years. It wasn’t until college, when, after failing multiple classes in his sophomore year, his grandmother sat him down and encouraged him to push through and receive his degree. She said, “just go get your degree even if you are not completely happy with what it is. Getting that piece of paper is really important!”
“That one instance, event, really changed my mind about everything,” said Curt. He buckled down and went on to graduate from The University of Colorado Boulder in 2009 with impressive grades, a degree in architecture, and a mind dedicated to the design process. He settled into a stable job working in the university print and fabrication shop.
Two stable but mundane years later, Curt was biking to work on a bright sunny day when a car traveling near thirty miles per hour struck him: “I crashed onto the hood, shattered the car windshield, and then was flung thirty feet through the air onto the ground. I stood up and walked to the side of the road where a man ran out and said, ‘you need to lay on the ground right now!’ The first thing I said to him was, ‘I think I can feel my ribs moving around in my chest.’”
Another twenty-four hours would go by before Curt woke up in the hospital, surrounded by doctors and family, who informed him of his injuries: seven broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, kidney, and liver, as well as a collapsed lung and a broken neck. However, Curt was alive. And, miraculously, although his body was badly broken, he was not paralyzed.
On his second day in the hospital Curt was introduced to the halo brace he would wear for the next three months. The metal head brace connects to a woolen body harness, immobilizing the upper body, and is held in place by four titanium pins screwed into the skull. “It really is like being in a medieval torture device.” His time in the ICU was spent trying to rest in a dark windowless room surrounded by the commotion of other nearby patients. “When you are in this position it is really intense. They can’t tell you how long you are going to be in this hospital and they say you will be in the brace for at least three months, but no one really knows.”
Curt was moved from the ICU to spend the remainder of his two weeks in the hospital in a more comfortable room, but that did little to ease his emotional or physical trauma.
When he finally left the hospital he realized - his real recovery process was only just beginning. “Once I got out of the hospital, there was just this creeping depression and anxiety of being like ‘it is going to be like this forever’ even though I knew - they told me, it would be three to six months in the halo and I would get out of it. Like I said, when you are on opioids and haven’t slept in a while your brain can tell you some fucked up things and mine told me that you are never going to get out of this situation. You better just deal with it.”
That was easier said than done for Curt though, as returning home meant endless boredom, not to mention the inability to shower or lay down for three months. “Even the things I was capable of doing and wanted to do were so exhausting that I was only able to do them in short increments.” Curt had gone from a relatively happy, busy, and hardworking guy to one stuck with truly nothing to do to pass the time. After six weeks he found himself, still trapped in the halo, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, balling his eyes out, with a wrench in his hand ready to turn the screws and take it off himself. “My mom is very awesome and very calmly was like ‘well, you can take it off but then they are going to have an ambulance come out here and pick you up and take you to the hospital and put four more of those pins in different spots.’” He didn’t go through with it. “I said ‘I’ll just go sit on my ass some more’ because that was the reality.”
The months passed, the halo came off, and Curt returned to work in an attempt to entertain himself. “I recognize that it was a great job, but there was something missing, and it was hard to deal with, and I filled my time with videogames, and I filled my time with dating as many women as I could and spending a lot of time in the gym but it was not fulfilling. It was definitely that kind of existential crisis like what am I doing with my life?” After sitting around for so long though, Curt was in the mood to experiment – to bring back some element of creativity to his life. He began to attend pottery classes in a nearby studio. “It took completely breaking me down and taking me to the lowest points of my entire life that I realized ‘wow I am missing something in my life and I need to find out what that is. I didn’t go into taking pottery classes specifically, I just wanted to get out of the house.”
He quickly fell back in love with design and his abilities with clay progressed as he spent more of his time there. “The pottery studio was close, and it wasn’t super expensive. It was a regular thing where three days a week I was out of the house and I could look forward to that.”
He found it a calming distraction from the traumatic events he had experienced. “It was really a form of art therapy.” said Curt. “But, as much as it sounds like this all just kind of fell into my lap… I still had to get my ass off the couch- stop feeling bad for myself and get out there and try something.”
Curt would go on to apprentice at the Boulder Potters’ Guild and hone his experimental, yet iterative, process of work, which he still uses to this day. He has become a successful ceramics artist, featuring his work and process on Instagram, Facebook, and most recently, YouTube. “How do you get people to take charge of their life without them going through some horrible ordeal?” asks Curt. For a man whose worst moments in life lead him down the path to find his calling, he understood that, with struggle came revelation- and a price. “I talk about this with my brother all the time. He has a three-year-old son named Calvin and it’s like- how do you instill these ideas into a child without them having to go through something horrible?”
When asked his thoughts about men being in touch with their thinking and emotions, Curt again turned back to conversations with his brother. “This is something that my brother and I talk about a lot and it’s something he finds very important for his son. He is constantly asking his son, ‘how does that make you feel?’ Getting responses from my nephew, and getting him to stop and explain his feelings, that just wasn’t something that was around when I was growing up.” He adds his view on generational trends. “A lot of guys in our generation, and tons of guys in the generation before us, never in their entire life felt comfortable to actually talk about or even think about what is going through their head or what problems they are dealing with. All of these things that we see in this world today, of toxic masculinity and all of the men just acting macho, just because one- they don’t know how to act and, two- because it stops them from being vulnerable. The first step is opening up and talking about it.”