Untitled [The Healing Machine, #21], c. 1970-1986
oil-based enamel on wood
12 x 8 in. (30.5 x 20.3 cm.)
Untitled #327, c. 1955-1986
steel wire, plastic, tin foil, mixed media
54.50 x 25.50 in. (138.4 x 64.8 cm.)
American, 20th century.
Born 1907, Callaway, Nebraska; died 1986, Callaway, Nebraska.
Emery Blagdon's vast, enigmatic oeuvre is emblematic of Outsider Art's intersection with other marginalized fields of inquiry: alchemy, the healing arts, visionary invention. Yet we would not be considering his epic, sprawling, mixed-media "Healing Machine," produced in relative isolation in a Nebraska shed, if it did not possess a consistently powerful aesthetic pull that separates him from other inventors.
Born on the Sandhills of Nebraska near the town of Stapleton in 1907, Blagdon left home to ride the rails before returning to his family's land. He was inspired to explore the healing potential of earth elements after losing both of his parents to cancer. He began to create assemblages from found materials he called "machines" in order to harness this healing power. He worked alone for thirty years, gradually expanding his Healing Machine until it completely filled his shed's capacity of 800 square feet. His work also grew in its intensity, and Blagdon was known to invite locals to visit and benefit from its healing force.
Many of the discrete parts of the total Healing Machine were constructed to hang from a ceiling, allowing visitors to engage focused healing charges up close, from a variety of positions and distances. Hanging like chandeliers, their impact is strong whether seen from afar, or at close range, allowing minute details to emerge. Small vials bearing mysterious salts clink against each other, held in place by copper wire. Blagdon's vision was kinetic: tin foil, and metal reflect light and cast shadows in shifting patterns with changes in wind and sun. Blagdon concealed just as much as he revealed, creating mystery by choosing to wrap, box, and bottle elements to intensify their charge. He also constructed freestanding "machines," and painted dynamic mandala compositions on board, a practice which provided variety and balance to the totality of his oeuvre.
It is a curious fact that the artist himself died of cancer in 1986. If not for the curiosity and subsequent dedication of local pharmacist Don Dryden, from whom Blagdon purchased healing mineral salts, this body of work may have been lost forever.
- Jenifer P. Borum
2017, Escape Routes, John Micheal Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan
2014, Purple States, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York
2013, The Alternative Guide to the Universe, Hayward Gallery, London
2013, Great and Mighty Things: Outsider Art from the Sheldon and Jill Bonovitz Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art
2013, Emery Blagdon: The Healing Machine, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan
2012, Ghosts in the Machine, New Museum, New York
2010, The Museum of Everything, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin
2007, Sandhill Healing, Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York
2001, Treasures of the Soul: Who Is Rich?, American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore
American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore
John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan
Kohler Foundation, Kohler
Museum of Everything, London
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Yau, John, "The Wondrous Story of Emery Blagon's Healing Machine," Hyperallergic, June 30, 2013
Gioni, Massimiliano, and Gary Carrion-Murayari, Ghosts in the Machine, exhibition catalogue, Skira Rizzoli, New York, 2012.
The Museum of Everything, exhibition catalogue, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli & Electa, Turin/Milan, 2010.
Johnson, Ken, "Emery Blagdon: Flights of fancy from the artist as medicine man," The New York Times, January 10, 2008.
Umberger, Leslie, "Emery Blagdon's Earthly Power," Raw Vision, No. 59, Summer 2007.
Umberger, Leslie, and Erika Lee, Sublime Spaces & Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2007.
Wilson, Cleo F., "Emery Blagdon: The Healing Machines," In'tuit, Chicago, Vol. 1, Issue 2, 1992.
Emery Blagon & His Healing Machine, NET Nebraska, August 18, 2013 (26:40 minutes).