Artist Profile – Emery Blagdon

The Healing Machine (untitled Healing Machine component)

Emery Blagdon / The Healing Machine (untitled Healing Machine component) /c. 1955-86 / Oil paint on wood / 9 1/2 x 13 3/4 in. / Collection John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin / (c) John Michael Kohler Arts Center

1907–1986, Garfield Table, Nebraska

Emery Blagdon constructed an enigmatic environment, designed to harness electromagnetic power from the atmosphere, in a small ramshackle shed on his farm about twenty miles northeast of North Platte, Nebraska. Not much is known about Blagdon: he was born to a Lincoln County farming family in 1907, attended school through the eighth grade, and spent much of the Great Depression on the road and riding the rails. He inherited his uncle’s 160-acre farm in the early 1950s, and returned to Nebraska to work the land minimally as a subsistence farmer. Around 1955, at age forty-eight, Blagdon embarked on the project that would occupy and sustain him for the next three decades of his life, the construction of a dense network of “Healing Machines.” As a young man, he apparently lost his parents and three of his five younger siblings to cancer, and he designed a system of elegant, spindly mobiles and delicate freestanding sculptures made out of baling wire and found objects to produce energy fields with preventative, restorative, and curative powers. The objects’ reflective, kinetic, and color properties were intended to harness and release an electromagnetic force to combat physical and psychic pain. Blagdon also formed a group of abstract geometrical panel paintings, which display a transcendental sense of color, proportion, and pattern, to serve the same purpose.

Blagdon considered himself more a healer or scientist-inventor than an artist, although he welcomed visitors to view his shed and bask in its regenerative effect. Although a recluse, his easy manner and willingness to share his work led local pharmacist Dan Dryden to view the installation after Blagdon approached him at the pharmacy in search of “earth elements” for his Machines. After the artist’s death––of cancer––in 1986, Dryden and a friend purchased the shed in its entirety at auction. Blagdon’s “Healing Machine” has been exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fourth Biennale in Lyon, France; after conservation, the environment was acquired by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

 

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Blagdon NYT Jan 2008

Bibliography

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Primary Source Resources:

John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI

 

Books and Exhibition Catalogs:

Emery Blagdon: The Healing Machines. Chicago: INTUIT: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 1992.

 

Books and Exhibition Catalogs that include Blagdon:

Brackman, Barbara, and Cathy Dwigans, eds. Backyard Visionaries: Grassroots Art in the Midwest. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 1999.

Umberger, Leslie. Sublime Spaces and Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists. Sheboygan, WI: John Michael Kohler Arts Center, in association with Princeton Architectural Press, 2007.

 

Articles:

Dryden, Dan and Don Christensen. “Grassroots Artist: Emery Blagdon.” KGAA News 8, no. 2 (1988): 1-2.

“The Healing Machines of Emery Blagdon.” Intuit 1, Issue 1 (Fall 1992): 1, 4.

Duggan, Joe. “Art Outsider’s Legacy Comes Back to Nebraska.” Lincoln Journal Star, Jan. 7, 2006.

Isaacs, Deanna. “The Healing Machines of Emery Blagdon.” Chicago Reader, November 19, 1992.

Johnson, Ken. “Flights of Fancy: Artist as Medicine Man.” New York Times, Jan. 10, 2008.

Umberger, Leslie. “Earthly Power: Emery Blagdon.” Raw Vision 59 (Summer 2007).

 

Select Group Exhibitions:

Fourth Bienalle, Lyon, France, 1997.

Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century: An American Anthology. Museum of American Folk Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of art, PA, 1999.

Treasures of the Soul: Who is Rich?. American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, MD, 2000.

The Believers. MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA, 2007.

Sublime Spaces and Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists. John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI, 2007.

Present Tense: A Group Exhibition. Curated by Don Christensen with Mary Heilmann. Spanierman Modern Gallery, New York, NY, 2008.

STICKS, INTUIT: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago, IL, 2009.

World Transformers: The Art of the Outsiders. Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany, 2010-2011.

 

Solo Exhibitions:

The Healing Machines of Emery Blagdon. INTUIT: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago, IL, 1992.
Sandhill Healings. Cavin Morris Gallery, New York, NY, 2007.

 

Museum Collections:

INTUIT: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago, IL

John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI

The Museum of Everything, London, England

 

Compiled by Samantha Mitchell

Artist’s Work