Sandwich artist makes a giant impression
Michael Magyar has inspired a community with his unique—and sizeable—creations
Taking a drive to peruse Christmas lights in December is a time-honored tradition for families around New England, yet this festive endeavor has reached new heights recently in the town of Sandwich. Heralding the start of the holiday season, those who live in or travel through Cape Cod’s oldest town can view a magical display of gargantuan twinkling figures gracing front yards throughout the community—on or nearby Route 6A—beginning the day after Thanksgiving.
Lit up until New Year’s Day, or soon thereafter, this collection of “Giants” includes angels, a lobster, a sand dollar, a fire truck, a juggler, and Old Man Winter himself—all fashioned from rebar iron and Christmas lights and arranged in front of Sandwich businesses and homes. There is one Giant down the road apiece in Dennis, and a few in Barnstable too! Standing eight to 20 feet tall, the brilliantly lit figures each have their own story. But where, a visitor might ask, did they come from? Who made them, and why?
The Giants’ story begins with Michael Magyar, a talented glass artist and sculptor, who arrived in Sandwich in 1992 and opened The Glass Studio on Cape Cod. In business here for nearly two decades now, Magyar and his staff create blown glass art pieces for sale and exhibition, and visitors can tour his facility on Route 6A to learn how the process works.
Just for fun, Magyar created his first Giant, a glassblower he calls “Moto-San,” back in 1996. “I love sculpting with metal and thought it would be cool to represent my studio with a lit-up figure out on Route 6A,” Magyar says. “When I put it out, people loved it, and my neighbor down the street asked me to make him one. Things took off from there.”
Today, the Giants—these “Gifts of the Magyar”—number more than 35, and as of our publication date the artist was working on more to display this holiday season.
The Giants have grown increasingly popular in the Sandwich community, so much so that the theme of this year’s First Night celebration is “Town of the Giants.” Organizers of the festive event pay homage to Magyar and his creations this year by featuring puppet replicas of his Giants in the annual Revelers Parade. The festivities are held Wednesday, December 31, beginning at 4 p.m. A Giant-lighting finale is scheduled for 9 p.m.
With degrees from the Fine Arts School at Washington University in St. Louis and Tulane University in New Orleans, where he focused on sculpture, glass blowing, and glass production, Magyar says he was moved when he heard the details of the celebration. “I was overwhelmed when I found out about First Night,” he says. “One person at a time has wanted a Giant [over the years] and no one organization has sponsored it, but everyone does a little bit and it becomes a tremendous holiday event.”
Once Magyar finishes a Giant, he says many people in town help put it in place and decorate it with lights; the sculptures must also be taken down, of course, and maintained and stored during the year. “The sacrifices each person makes creates a wonderful community spectacle,” Magyar says. “It is really this effort that I am honored to be a part of. Winter is cold and dark and when you go to work in the morning, you don’t see the Giants. When you come home at night and the lights are on, it makes a difference.”
Magyar described the process by which his Giants “come alive.” First, an individual or group will reach out to him with an idea for a Giant. He then sketches out some designs and meets with the group to iron out the sculpture’s theme, size, and other details. Initially, Magyar built the Giants at either no charge or for trade. The demand has grown so much, though, that he now charges to build the figures.
The artist then chalks out a design of the Giant on a concrete pad at his studio; when that’s finished, Magyar begins laying out the metal. With help from a crew of assistants, he cuts and bends the different shapes from 20-foot steel rebar rods; sometimes, he employs two trees to hold the bars in place as they are being bent. To get a better view, he often climbs a ladder to assess the project’s progress from above.
“After working out the details, the most fun part of the process is bending and molding the metal,” Magyar says.
“This is when I watch the Giants come alive.” Elaborating, he says the sculptures do get pretty big. “Some of the giants are really huge,” he says with a laugh. “Fourteen feet is easy to create, but 18 to 20, now that’s tough!”
Naturally, the look of each sculpture is customized for those requesting them; similarly, those commissioning the Giants have their own story or inspiration for doing so: some simple, others more involved.
Many of the Giants advertise—and beautify—local businesses: a waiter Giant, for example, stands in front of Momo’s Food Emporium on Route 6A while Old Man Winter endures the cold outside The Weather Store on Main Street. Some of the sculptures reflect a town institution, such as the Blue Knight which stands guard outside Sandwich High; others are family based, or represent personal sentiments.
Neila Neary, who owns Momo’s, and serves as co-chair of the First Night celebration, is a huge fan of this project. “I am a Giant junkie,” she says. “When I bought Momo’s in 2008, I also was lucky enough to inherit my waiter Giant. I am also the first lucky person to get a summer Giant: an ice cream cone.” The sculpture alerts passersby that sweet and cool refreshment is sold in the shop—by the scoop.
Parke Madden, who owns The Weather Store, says he is thrilled to be involved. “I have known Michael for years and I loved his vision of expanding the Giants all over town,” Madden says. “When we designed Old Man Winter together in 2011, it was just perfect for my store and sits way up high on top of the building. My co-worker and I work together each year to hoist it up there, and it is no easy task! People love the whole idea of it. I know people from off-Cape that plan to make a night of it. They drive down, have dinner, and then drive around to see the Giants. It’s free! I would like to see them all the way to Provincetown.”
Attorney Kate Mitchell and her spouse, Pat Toalson, approached Magyar in 2011 to make a Lady Justice Giant to stand in front of their law office/home. Mitchell remembers seeing the sculpture—scales and all and 20 feet tall—for the first time. “We wondered, ‘how are we going to get it home?’ It was a slow ride up 6A.”
The couple also needed help getting the sculpture in place—and later taking it down—so they began a new tradition. “We invite a group of friends over . . . and their friends too,” Mitchell says. “Anyone who shows up to help gets a home-cooked breakfast, and it’s a fun morning. It’s kind of like an old fashioned barn raising!”
A resident of East Sandwich, Cynthia Myers commissioned Magyar to make a Giant featuring two parents, as a gift for her husband, Michael, in 2009. The following year, she asked Magyar to add to the sculpture two grandparents; two children to represent the couple’s youngsters, Kathryn and Jack; and at the very center, a heart. “We support and contribute to the Family Federation of World Peace [and Unification], which this symbol represents,” Myers says. “For us, the light that the Giant radiates emits many layers of love and peace, from the very personal level of our family, to the Sandwich community, and out to the entire world.”
Magyar says the inspiration for Sandwich High’s Blue Knight Giant is yet another example of the community involvement he was hoping to inspire with the project. According to Magyar, in 2011 Sandwich High student Evan Denmark founded a club at the school called The Blue Knight Believers with the goal of promoting school spirit and pride. The following year, Sandwich Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Richard Canfield, approached Denmark about working with Magyar to create a Giant to symbolize the high school’s Blue Knight mascot.
Magyar agreed, and over three weeks during the fall of 2012, he worked with some 20 students from the school to complete the project. Magyar says the students were interested in different aspects of the artistic and construction process; he showed them how to use the materials, and let them do most of the work.
The giant was assembled in two pieces—a white horse and a blue knight—and the structure was installed on campus and decorated prior to the school’s annual Thanksgiving Day football game. “It was an amazing moment . . . and a sense of accomplishment for all of us,” says Denmark, now a student at MIT. “It expanded Blue Knight pride beyond the walls of the high school and into the town of Sandwich itself. It was very significant for us.”
Co-chairing the upcoming First Night festivities, Neary, Paula Johnson, and Melinda Gallant as well as other volunteers, have spent hours coordinating and planning all the elements of the fun and family-friendly festival. The Giants, of course, have a starring role.
“We are taking Michael’s Giants that are being enjoyed by so many and bringing them to life,” Johnson says. “We want to tell the world about them. It’s going to be amazing.”