The Hog Wild Chronicles is a project following a family of pyrotechnicians based in Lowell, Northwest Arkansas. Every year for the 4th of July celebrations Tonya and Jerry Martin, along with their children, run and supervise fireworks shows throughout the entire state. The company was first established in 1999, however their love for pyrotechnics all started in their friend’s backyard 10 years earlier.
As per tradition of the yearly gathering, after a good cookout the group would join hayrides (wooden trailers pulled by horses) and hop out in local surrounding fields to shoot “over the counter” fireworks at night fall. Tonya and Jerry developed such a passion for the thrilling activity that after a few years of summer fun, they went on to become industry professionals and licensed instructors. “I got tired of the small stuff” Tonya stated.
July 2018. Jerry Martin (63) and Tonya Martin (57) patiently wire arial shells to firing devices.
I first became aware of Hog Wild Pyrotechnics after meeting Lauren Behl, one of Tonya’s daughters. While she was growing up, the same team of family and friends would return for the busy season; a yearly reunion they all anticipated from the moment the celebrations were over. But with time passing and families evolving, the beloved group dispersed. As appreciative as she is to meet new pyrotechnicians and students who fill in every summer, it was bitter sweet to talk about the subject. However Lauren and her siblings’ ties to the tradition are still so strong that they always make the trip back for 4th of July; whether from Texas, California or elsewhere in the US.
While documenting the process in July 2018, I witnessed a lot of tenacity and a high range of emotions. From the back breaking labor of lifting and drilling in a humid environment averaging a 90F temperature; to the tedious wiring between shells for the perfect arrangements of colors and effect. The calm before the storm in the late afternoon and the tension building at nightfall, finally followed by the adrenaline rush created from the impact of ear piercing explosions during hand and remote firing. Tonya and Jerry ran the show in an uplifting manor while remaining firm, making sure all were safe and focused on their jobs.
In the car ride back home after the shows where successfully completed, Tonya told me about her other profession. When she is not supervising a team to fill mortar racks with aerial shells ranging from 3/4” up to ten inches connected to Cobra Firing System devices, she runs a beauty salon. “I do nails... finger nails and fireworks, quite the opposite jobs” she says with humor.
*Following the extreme floods that occurred in central USA in the spring of 2019, three of their major July dates had to be canceled. Many “pyros” where equally affected, with shooting sites still unaccessible as of June, under three feet of water.