Sometimes, a place simply claims a person.
Such is the case with Colorado craftsman John Billings. In 1992, this native Californian, known as the “Grammy Guy,” visited Ridgway for the first time. He felt instantly connected to the high alpine landscape and discovered a deep sense of belonging.
“When you lift up other people’s lives, you’re lifted along with them.”
-John Billings, owner of Billings Artworks
“Something about Ridgway reminded me of my neighborhood when I was a kid,” he said. “There’s this energy that just surrounds you.”
He immediately set about moving his molding-and-casting business, which crafts the venerable Grammy Awards, to this peaceful little town. In the past quarter century, many neighbors say he’s been a significant force in growing the palpable arts vibe that has earned the town its distinction as a Space to Create. John not only runs his manufacturing company, Billings Artworks, he also sponsors music, cultural events and residencies for visiting artists.
Originally called the Gramophone Award, the Grammy Award was invented to honor outstanding achievement in the music industry back in 1958. And that first year, John’s best friend’s dad was contracted to create the first award. His name was Bob Graves.
Fast-forward to the ‘70s, when Billings got a grant to go to school to learn how to make teeth.
“I thought I’d drop by and show Bob my castings,” John said. “And he asked me if I wanted to be his apprentice.” That was the defining moment that started a 41-year run for John and his annual creation of the Grammy Awards.
In that time, John has redesigned both the mold and the material for the award to make them more durable and light. He invented a proprietary zinc alloy called Grammium. Each Grammy represents 15 hours of work, and the entertainment industry now demands several hundred a year. That keeps a crew of four busy Monday through Friday.
John recruited his esteemed craftsmen from past jobs as dishwasher, drywaller and carpenter. He tells a poignant story about the Lifetime Achievement portion of a live awards ceremony, and the reaction from a member of his team he invited to attend. “I looked down the aisle, and he’s got tears running down his face. At that moment he understood what his work meant, where it was going, and how it really lifted someone else’s life,” he said. “When you lift up other people’s lives, you’re lifted along with them.”