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Quirky art by Stapleton man commands attentionTell North Platte what you think
Courtesy Photo­Image
Courtesy Photo­Image
Often using wire, Blagdon created hundreds of works, including this one that looks like a tornado, from the upper clouds to the tip.
Courtesy Photo­Image
Painted bottles containing elements, suspended from a circular hanger, with tails.
Courtesy Photo­Image
His work included cubes, circles and in at least one instance, a birdhouse-looking design with items neatly hanging in the rafters.
Courtesy Photo­Image

Twenty-seven years after a strange-looking rural Stapleton man died and was buried, he is still teaching people.

Emory Blagdon worked to invent ways to harness invisible electro-magnetic energy to cure illness.

His inventive work is still communicating with others, beyond what Blagdon seemed to envision.

The latest telling of Blagdon’s story will be broadcast in a half-hour documentary at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18 on Nebraska Educational Television.

At his small farmstead near Stapleton, Blagdon spent 30 years making wire sculptures, paintings and intricate, often glittery hangings.

Blagdon inherited a quarter-section of land. He rented out the crop and pasture land and lived a humble existence on the farmstead.

He kept his intricate works in a weathered shed, where they remained when he died in 1986.

But the years since, his life’s work has traveled far and wide.

Blagdon’s shed contained some 600-wire sculptures. Hung from the ceiling and nailed to the walls, the glittering thicket was looped and woven with twisted shapes of copper, foil, beads and other objects that he found.

Blagdon believed the sculptures, along with 80 hex-like paintings, generated healing electromagnetic energy that could treat and cure illnesses.

His neighbors believed the artist, long-haired, often unwashed, was just an eccentric.

After his death, his entire collection was purchased at an auction on his farmstead by North Platte natives Dan Dryden and Don Christensen, who then lived in New York.

When Blagdon was working, he often came into the North Platte pharmacy where Dryden worked, seeking “earth elements” to incorporate into his sculptures. Dryden became intrigued and visited the farmstead, where he was amazed with what he saw.

He invited Christensen to help him buy the work and market it and they managed to shepherd the unusual collection and sell it to others. In 2004, much of it was finally displayed in at a Soho art gallery in New York City, where it earned an excellent review in the New York Times newspaper. At the time, prices for parts of the collection ranged from $2,500 to $25,000.

New York Times art critic Ken Johnson called the 40-piece collection at the gallery “a delirious congestion.”

“He worked, down to the finest details, with rough but patient deliberation, and his complete absorption in the process is a big part of what makes the works so gratifying to study,” Johnson wrote.

NET producer Kelly Rush told the Bulletin that Blagdon had a genuine belief that he was helping people – that his “machine” could treat illnesses.

“He was a very talented man,” Rush said. “He didn’t consider himself an artist, but he had the talent and ability. He thought of himself as an experimenter in healing and science -- a discoverer, an inventor.”

Rush said Blagdon’s unkempt appearance gave some the impression that he was mentally ill, but those who knew him say otherwise.

His great-niece Connie Paxton (of Lincoln) and his friend Roger Neph (of North Platte) felt he just marched to a beat of a different drummer. He raised gardens, he paid his bills. He cooked for himself.

“He was very self sufficient,” Rush said. “He helped neighbors and visited with them. He lived on the farm and he didn’t drive, so some thought he was a recluse, but I don’t see that he was. He was sociable. He wanted people to come to his ‘healing machine.’ Maybe he was a little shy, but once you got him talking he would carry on a conversation.”

Rush said her NET colleague Jerry Johnston wanted to tell Blagdon’s story, and they talked about it for five years before the work got underway.

Johnston was a fan of self-taught artists and extremely interested in Bladgon.

Unfortunately, Johnston died just a month after the network gave the green light to the project. Rush and the network carried on, raising funds and putting the story together.

Nebraskaland National Bank of North Platte and eight other sources, including Johnston’s memorial fund, are listed as major contributors of funding.

Rush said Blagdon’s story unfolds through interviews. It told itself.

“It is Emory’s story,” she said. “This is a story of Nebraska. I don’t know who else (besides NET) would have told it.”

NET videographer/ editor Pat Aylward edited the interview film so that the story unfolds chronologically.

While Rush was researching, she enjoyed talking to people in the North Platte/Stapleton area.

“Everyone I spoke to was willing to help, or sent me to someone they thought might be able to,” she said. “I grew up in Axtell. The people I have met throughout Nebraska are just like those from home -- caring, friendly, curious, just good people -- the kind you want to know.”

This report was published July 31 in the Bulletin's print edition. A sizeable portion of it was written in 2005 by Linda Read Deeds, an adjunct instructor at North Platte Community College. Deeds later became a writer for Nebraska Life magazine. -Editor.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 8/15/2013
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