Article and photos by Kelly Rush
NET Television Senior Promotion Producer
A vision realized
When I first saw the perfectly twisted baling wire, the smashed chewing tobacco cans, and the hurricane beads hanging like decorative chandeliers, I wanted to know more about the man who created this beautiful work from everyday materials. It was 2006 when I was introduced to Emery Blagdon’s art at the Nebraska State History Museum in Lincoln, Neb. I was amazed at what this Nebraskan had produced and the artistry he put into each piece.
NET Radio announcer and reporter Jerry Johnston shared my admiration for Emery and desired to produce a radio story about Emery’s life and art. We loved having hallway conversations about Emery’s obsession to produce an environment that would make people feel better. We wanted to go further than just a radio story. We wanted to tell it through video. Jerry worked for NET Radio and I worked for NET Television as promotion producer. It took us six years to step out of our regular routines to become co-producers and dive into making the NET documentary Emery Blagdon and His Healing Machine. With Charles P. Aylward as our videographer and editor, we began the project in 2012.
Documentary summary from the NET communications department
In an unheated shed near Stapleton, Neb., in the late 1950s, Emery Blagdon began twisting old wire and foil, threading hundreds of beads, and shaping castoff materials toward one purpose – to generate natural energy to heal. Spurred on by personal tragedy, Emery’s obsession to create a “Healing Machine” was lifelong. He believed people could be cured by his artful chandeliers, cascades of wire, and colorful geometric paintings.
In 1975, North Platte pharmacist Dan Dryden was intrigued when a man with unkempt hair, a long beard, and overalls walked into his store and asked for “elements.” Dan befriended Emery and invited himself out to see Emery’s creations. As Dan entered the old shed he was astonished; it was like nothing he had seen before. Through their friendship, Dan found inspiration to pursue his own true life’s dream as a sound engineer and moved away from Nebraska.
Eleven years later, on a return trip to Nebraska from New York City, Dan learned Emery had died. He also learned Emery’s farmstead and the Healing Machine were up for auction. To keep the machine from being separated or destroyed, Dan and high school classmate Don Christensen purchased the Healing Machine. They cataloged it and showed it nationally and internationally while storing the bulk of the collection for 18 years.
In 2004, Dan and Don approached the Kohler Foundation in Sheboygan, Wis., which specializes in conserving what is often referred to as self-taught or visionary art. Soon after the visit the foundation purchased the bulk of Emery’s Healing Machine and began using modern museum conservation techniques to preserve the masterpiece.
Emery’s Healing Machine is now part of the Kohler Art Center’s permanent collection. Emery is known by art collectors and museum visitors as a man with boundless visionary creativity, an artist of great significance.
Introducing Emery to Nebraskans
Co-producer Jerry Johnston wanted Nebraskans to experience the beauty, the passion and the impact that Emery’s art had on him. Jerry was diagnosed with cancer in December 2012 and passed away Feb. 1, 2013. He never saw the completed documentary. Like Emery, Jerry too had passion, impact, and creativity. He was a man you loved to see and hated to leave. He is sorely missed.
This month the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney will present Glimpses of Emery Blagdon and His Healing Machine, an exhibition of Blagdon’s work, April 7-July 19. This exhibit is comprised of selected pieces on loan from private collectors and will premiere MONA’s recent Blagdon purchase, the only work by the artist found in a Nebraska public collection. A free screening of the NET documentary Emery Blagdon and His Healing Machine will take place at the museum Thurs., April 23, at 7pm CT. Reservations are required. Call 1-800-634-6788 for reservations.