NET documentary spotlights brilliantly eccentric Nebraskan artist
Story and photos by Heather Haskins, NewsNetNebraska
A Nebraska man who believed his artwork had the power to heal people is the subject of a new NET documentary.
Emery Blagdon, who lived from 1907-1986, worked for 30 years on what he called his “healing machines” inside a small shed. The shed was built on his land in Stapleton, Neb.
There was a free screening of the documentary “Emery Blagdon and his Healing Machine,” at the Sheldon Art Museum on Tuesday followed by a panel discussion that featured producer Kelly Rush, videographer and editor Charles ‘Pat’ Aylward as well as Blagdon’s great niece, Connie Paxton.
Blagdon’s work consisted of everyday objects intricately woven together with wire. Lights and jars filled with “elements” such as salt crystals and salt powders hung from the walls of his workshop shed.
“He truly believed that it had a healing power,” Paxton said. “He would ask you to put your hand up and feel the energy in the healing machine.”
Blagdon’s childhood was rough. His parents died when he was in his 20’s and all but one of his five siblings died of cancer. Blagdon himself would eventually die of cancer in 1986.
Blagdon did not go to school beyond the eighth grade. Like many rural boys of the time, he left school to help on the family farm. He helped his father on the farm up until his father’s death.
“One of his first loves was horses,” Paxton said. “Once that first machinery came into play he kind of lost his interest in farming.”
Blagdon was hired by other people to do odd jobs. In his free time, he worked on his healing machine. What started as a pastime turned into a passion and then an obsession.
NewsNetNebraska’s Maranda Loughlin takes a deeper look at Blagdon and his documentary debut at UNL.
Blagdon believed his machines had electromagnetic currents that had healing powers, although he did not know exactly how it worked.
He would get materials from things he found around the house as well as auctions.
“He loved going to farm auctions,” Paxton said. ” If there was a farm auction nearby, you could pretty much bet that he was there collecting old TVs and radios.”
Blagdon went to his local pharmacy to get “elements” such as salt crystals and salt powders for his machine that he would put in small bottles and wire them in.
There he met Dan Dryden, a pharmacist, who was at first taken aback by Blagdon’s appearance: a long, unkempt beard and overalls. A friend recalled that Blagdon never bathed because he believed it was a source of his creative power.
Dryden eventually was so inspired by Blagdon’s healing machines that he pursued his own dreams. He sold the family pharmacy and went to New York to become a sound engineer for the Philip Glass Ensemble.
Years later, Dryden was instrumental in saving Blagdon’s art works. Blagdon left no will when he died, so all of his things went up for auction, including his healing machines.
Dryden and high school classmate Don Christensen bought Blagdon’s works and showed them nationally and internationally for 18 years.
In 2004, the Kohler Foundation in Sheboygan, Wis., purchased the healing machines, testing each individual element to make sure nothing was toxic.
The machines are now part of the the Kohler Art Center’s permanent collection.
Documenting Blagdon’s work
Rush knew that she wanted to make the documentary as soon as she saw Blagdon’s work. She worked with NET Senior Producer Jerry Johnston, who has since died, to produce the documentary.
“If anything it was an emotional power,” Rush said of the so-called electromagnetic healing power of the work. “There were people out there that really felt they would be cured by sitting in his shed. I think what I felt after seeing his work in 2006, the artwork itself was so powerful, the time he put into each piece and the layering he used in each piece.”
To view the NET documentary on Emery Blagdon, click here.