At Hammond's other large studio, a 10,000-square-foot installation space will be filled with the Day of the Dead's second annual "Nocturnes" exhibition, focusing on ghost-based artwork. There also will be a play reading, an intimate "puppet slam," Latin-centric food trucks, and, perhaps most impressive, the Skeleton Processional: a volunteer army of puppet-carrying, costumed visitors led up Andrews Avenue by mariachi musicians. Most everything is free. In 2010, Hammond's first year staging a Day of the Dead festival, less than 100 participants signed up for the processional. Last year, the number jumped to 225, and this year, more than 450 have registered on Facebook.

"Any first year, you may be creating an event that may only have the life of one year," Hammond recalls of his first Day of the Dead. "But audiences responded to it, and most of our community of 160 volunteers that we have right now working on this event were there the first year, participating. Without those volunteers, we wouldn't have continued. I am a volunteer on this event, trying to make it a success.

"It's taken off... do I want to say better than expected? No, it's pretty much on a course that I was hoping for. I'm a big dreamer. My mom always said I have delusions of grandeur."

Jim Hammond
Shelly Bradshaw
Jim Hammond

Hammond is now 42, and he has enjoyed a long and enviable career in a niche field. But he says the fundamental desire to bring inanimate objects to life hasn't changed much since those makeshift neighborhood puppet shows, which he created from garbage bags and found objects.

"You could almost say that my creative foundation is as a 10-year-old kid, breaking sticks off dead trees and turning them into puppets," he says. "I haven't stepped that far away. I believe there's such an innocence, whether you're a kid who comes in here and looks at these puppets and is like, 'Oh my gosh, this is fascinating' or you're a 21-year-old punk-rock kid who's trying to impress your girlfriend, and you're all hip and cool, but as soon as you walk in and look at one of these characters, you melt a little bit. And you go, 'I'm a kid again. I can't believe this is a real job.' "

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