While reading the incredible book, Sublime Spaces and Visionary Worlds, I was introduced to Emery Blagdon and the realization that I’d finally stumbled across my first gnome. The following article is from the Foundation For Self-Taught American Artists. -RB
In 1986, when Dryden and Christensen were visiting North Platte, they learned the old farmer had died of cancer at 78. He had no will, and his estate was put up for auction.
The friends from New York placed the only bid for the healing machines.
“After more than a decade of absence, I happened to plop in there at a pivotal moment,” he said. Had they not bought Blagdon’s work, it’s likely his creations would have ended up on a scrap heap.
-JOE DUGGAN / Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Saturday, January 7, 2006 6:00 pm<http://www.journalstar.com/news/local/article_aebdfa60-c9bd-5726-b31b-3bec62d8b9f3.html>
Emery Blagdon constructed the enigmatic environment that is his legacy in a small ramshackle shed on his farm about twenty miles northeast of North Platte, Nebraska, in the desolate Sandhills country. Not much is known about the man himself: he was born to a Lincoln County farming family in 1907, attended school through the eighth grade, and spent much of the Depression years on the road and riding the rails.
In the early 1950s, he inherited his uncle’s 160-acre farm and returned to Nebraska where he worked 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 his shed––which housed 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 resonate and release an electromagnetic force to combat physical and psychic pain. Blagdon’s cure also relied on an equally remarkable, but smaller, group of abstract geometrical panel paintings, which display a transcendental sense of color, proportion, and pattern.
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 bit of a recluse, his easy manner and willingness to share his work led local pharmacist Dan Dryden on a pilgrimage to view the installation after Blagdon approached him at the pharmacy in search of “earth elements” for his Machines.
“It was just an explosion of color and reflections. It was probably the biggest surprise in the world to me, this phantasmagorical display. The blinking Christmas tree lights were reflecting off the foil. The contrast between the outside dark and inside the shed was just over the top.” –Dan Dryden
After the artist’s death––of cancer––in 1986, Dryden and a friend purchased the shed in its entirety at auction and have since campaigned to restore and exhibit the environment in its original form (with certain smaller pieces for sale commercially). Blagdon’s integral “Healing Machines” environment 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, for its permanent collection.
—Greaves, Brendan. “Emery Blagdon.” Foundation For Self-Taught American Artists.<http://www.foundationstaart.org/artist_single.aspx?artist=42>