James “Jim” Glidden worked with his hands every day of his life.
It was a process where frustrations arose quite often, yet he had the patience to see it through – giving the project room to breathe and become what it may.
Over the course of 31 years, Glidden called Albuquerque home.
During those decades of work, he was slowly leaving his mark in the community through his works of art.
Odds are, if you’ve driven anywhere from Bernalillo down through the South Valley, you’ve come across a piece of his work.
“Jim used to say, ‘If you want to see my portfolio, let’s jump in the car. You drive, I’ll point,’ ” says his wife, Christine Chilufya Glidden.
Today, Chilufya Glidden takes solace in the lasting legacy of her husband. James Glidden died on Oct. 29, 2021.
Months after his death, she’s able to travel through the city and remember him. Sometimes she finds herself leaning against one of his balconies or climbing one of his staircases.
Or she will take a moment to admire one of his public art sculptures.
Glidden began his work in Albuquerque by owning a small metal fabrication business. For nearly 20 years, he owned High Desert Forge and grew it.
“We laugh now, that he started out making toilet paper holders and went on to decorate this city,” she says.
Glidden’s first foray into decorating the city was done as he forged the gates on Fourth Street across from El Pinto. At the time, he and his assistant, Rex, stayed up nights working to heat, bend and hammer the steel into curves and flourishes. The project earned an international award and appeared in the publication Architectural Record.
There was work on the pool gates at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, and the interior work and exterior balconies at Sandia Resort & Casino.
Other projects include the steel and copper flight and baggage information displays at the Albuquerque International Sunport, as well as the custom hooks in the restrooms. All created by the hands of Glidden.
But his masterpiece – and biggest gift to the community – are the 65-foot Tricentennial Towers located at Interstate 40 and Rio Grande Boulevard.
It was a project, though filled with pressure, that was fun for him to make.
“The beauty of Jim’s mind was that he was able to not only draw the pretty picture of what he wanted to build, but he was able to build it,” she says. “With great artistic detail, he had this bridge in mind. It’s something that people drive by every day.”
The Tricentennial Towers are part of the city’s Public Arts Program and act as the entry to Old Town.
“They act to proudly announce and define the beauty of our community by defining our cultural heritages,” she says. “On the south side of I-40 is the Art Tower meant to celebrate punched tin. The north side tower or Nature Tower attempts to honor our Native history. And don’t miss the lighted emblems mounted on the walls abutting the interstate proclaiming our 300th birthday.”
Chilufya Glidden recalls then-Mayor Martin Chávez seeing the renderings to the towers and wanting them for the tricentennial celebration.
“It wasn’t easy working with the city,” she says. “I remember that we had a date to install the first tower and then two weeks later, we were supposed to install the second tower. The mayor pushed all of it up to one week. He wanted the Duke and Duchess of Alburquerque to see it. It created a lot of headaches for us, because everything was in place. We moved it all forward and the duke was able to see the towers before he went back to Spain. It was a magical day.”
Another piece is located at Presbyterian Hospital in Downtown Albuquerque on the fifth floor.
There sits “Rachel’s Courtyard,” which faces west on Interstate 25 and Central Avenue.
“Look up from I-25. You’ve passed a million times,” Chilufya Glidden says. “It’s the exterior, 60-foot wide balcony of children playing in space mounted on the fifth floor. Young patients often almost never go outside to play safely as they recover. Here, Rachel reaches for the planets with her butterfly net made from stainless steel, aluminum, and globes of colored glass.”
Rachel, a former young resident here, motivated her parents and the community to fund this one-of-kind outer space playground for all young patients to enjoy.
Glidden won a bid to design with others and fabricate the entry gates of the Isotopes baseball stadium.
“Most of the time, you go to see a game, the gates are open, but if you drive by or visit them when they are closed, you will see a replication of ball field shapes fabricated from stainless steel, aluminum and copper,” she says. “He liked to say ‘You can barely make them out for all the hotdog, mustard and relish.’ Jim was funny!”
Chilufya Glidden says her husband also created the exterior balconies and interior stainless steel and glass balconies at the Bernalillo County Metro Courthouse as well as the lookout platforms at the Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum.
“In the beginning, I would take a look at his design and I would ask, ‘Jim, you made this?’ ” she says. “Even he was surprised at times. He really blossomed and became more well-known. The word of mouth kept happening and he enjoyed all of the work and praise.”
Today, the community, as well as his family – daughter Jenna Phelps, son-in-law Griffin Phelps and granddaughter, Hadley James Kanyanta Phelps – are able to remember Glidden through his art.
In his final days, Glidden would go to University of New Mexico Cancer Center for treatment from Drs. Jessica Belmonte and Cheryl Willman.
This is where he also did metal work on the interior and exterior stairs.
“Even at the end, he was able to enjoy his own work,” she says. “His work was real to him. We live with his work. People now go up and down the stairs holding his work. His legacy lives on.”