SPACES and Kohler Foundation Celebrate New Partnership

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Emery Blagdon, Healing Machines

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  • Location:

    Sheboygan, Wisconsin, USA (Map)

  • Status:

    Relocated (incl. Museums)

  • Artist:
  • Materials:

    aluminum foil, cardboard, masking tape, sheet metal, waxed paper, wire

Visiting Information

In 2004, the Kohler Foundation purchased the entire collection. After three years cleaning and conserving its components, it went on permanent display in the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in June, 2007.

About the Artist/Site

After ten years riding boxcars and working odd jobs, Emery Blagdon returned to the Sand Hills of west-central Nebraska where he had been born. There, he helped his parents farm their land and, in his spare time, made small intricate shapes out of bent wire that he joined into complex assemblages, incorporating masking tape, sheet metal, aluminum foil and waxed paper, along with mechanical odds-and-ends picked up at yard sales. He also painted on cardboard and wood in strong, bold colors.

In the early 1960s, Blagdon built a two-part shed behind his house. The small entry served as his workshop and the larger space behind became an increasingly dense environment filled with his creations. He illuminated the site with strings of Christmas tree lights and hand-painted light bulbs in coffee can fixtures attached to the floor. Inspired in part by having watched his parents die of cancer, Blagdon worked for nearly thirty years on sculptures and paintings he described as Healing Machines. He didn’t consider himself an artist. Instead, he was fascinated by electricity and what he saw as its potential for healing at a time when “electropathy” was widely sought as a form of alternative healing. He believed that through the complex and diverse materials in the shed he could channel the powers of the earth, with the potential to cure various illnesses.

Visitors described the environment’s effect as overwhelming. Dan Drydon, a local pharmacist from whom Blagdon purchased mineral salts, later said, “It was as though the universe had come into the shed and all the stars were contained in the great mass.” It was, for him, “a life-changing experience.” Blagdon died in 1986. By coincidence, Drydon – who, inspired by Blagdon, had moved to New York City to pursue his own passion for music – returned to North Platte at around that time and discovered that the land and all remaining property was about to be sold at auction. He and his friend Don Christiansen bought the entire contents of the shed and spent the next eighteen years photographing, mapping, numbering and cataloguing each piece.

In 1989, a 60-piece exhibit toured cities in the Midwest and South. In 1997, a reproduction of Blagdon’s shed was created in Lyon, France (less than fifty miles from Ferdinand Cheval’s Palais Ideal) with 380 works displayed for the Fourth Biennale de Lyon, later traveling to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And in 2004, the Kohler Foundation purchased the entire collection. After three years cleaning and conserving its components, it went on permanent display in the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin in June, 2007.

~Mark Karpel

SPACES Archives Holdings

1 folder: clippings, correspondence, pamphlets, images

Map and site information

608 New York Ave
Sheboygan, Wisconsin, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 43.752017 / -87.710423

Visiting Information

In 2004, the Kohler Foundation purchased the entire collection. After three years cleaning and conserving its components, it went on permanent display in the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in June, 2007.

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