Sibling Revelry: The Blaggs

For the first time since their beloved mother, Mary J. Blagg, died two years ago, the brothers reunited for Spring Gallery Night in the show Sibling Revelry, which runs through May 6 at Fort Worth’s Artspace 111.

Daniel Blagg, Steppin' Out, oil on canvas

Pictured above:Dennis Blagg, The Clearing, 2013, oil on canvas
Rewind to the 1950s on a cotton farm in far West Texas. There lived a mother, eight boys and two girls, and a father who worked the graveyard shift in the oil field. The children ran wild and free under the sun from dawn until dusk but had to be quiet when they played inside on rainy days. So Mom came home with empty donut boxes and pencils hoping for quiet order while Dad slept. When they weren’t drawing snakes and lizards, they were sojourning into the wide-open poppy fields chasing quail and jackrabbits.
    “It was pretty wild and felt so free,” Dennis Blagg said.
     Four brilliant artists were born out of this simple Texas backdrop — the youngest of the four, Douglas, the eldest, Woodrow, and twins Daniel and Dennis Blagg.
     How did so much talent come from one family?
     “That’s what everyone wants to know,” oldest brother Woodrow answered through the phone from his home in a remote village in Pennsylvania.

Woodrow Blagg, Tight Rope, 2009, graphite on paper

     Their mother was the daughter of Sicilian immigrants, the first woman in her family to finish college, a “progressive thinker” and WWII Red Cross worker who traveled the world. She was an avid reader and art lover. She left coffee-table-sized books with paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh and Michelangelo lying around the house. These books and the empty Lone Star donut boxes, pieces of cardboard, scrap paper and pencils she collected occupied her children for hours.
     But it was more than her attempt to restore order that motivated them. “I can remember her encouragement and love for my efforts in drawing pictures. She would always say such work with a pencil takes a special person to do it that well,” Dennis said.
     Woodrow, who is described by his younger siblings as a magician with the pencil, inspired them too. Dan and Dennis both have memories of young Woodrow being able to draw anything and winning national contests with no art training.
     “Watching my brother Woodrow draw made my stomach tickle, and it enchanted me to try it myself,” Dennis said.
     “Woody always pursued art. He has had it in his blood forever,” Dan said.
     The show Sibling Revelry is a play on words. It would be silly to assume four brothers with such talent didn’t disagree or compete. But they eventually went different directions and excelled.
     Dan is known for his realist urbanscape oil paintings, and Dennis for his landscape oil paintings of Big Bend and beyond. Woodrow is recognized by his graphite drawings of life on famous ranches like the Four Sixes. The West Coast beaches enchant watercolorist Doug.

Doug Blagg, Santa Monica 2, watercolor on paper.

     The four brothers and their mother moved to Fort Worth in the 1960s, where they all stayed until Doug moved to Los Angeles in 1984 and Woody moved back to Pennsylvania in 1986. He had previously lived there while studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Before Doug and Woody left, the four brothers painted and drank wine on the roof of a damp shell of a building, talking politics, art and philosophy. Thanks to an investment from Margery Grella Gossett, this building is now the elegant Artspace 111.
     “In my 20s, everyone’s talent was exploding so fast. There is an ego with art. I needed to get away to find my own voice because they were so talented and powerful,” Doug said.
     Dan and Dennis stayed and became Fort Worth celebrities. Their paintings cover the walls of area galleries, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and other museums all over Texas. Let’s not forget Dennis’s exhausting and massive commission that now hangs in Terminal D at DFW Airport. 
     Woodrow has made his name on the East Coast and hangs his art in Texas, Colorado, New York and in many private collections. Doug sells out at art shows when he’s not working on movie sets as a key grip for stars like Sean Penn in Into the Wild.
     In an article written in 2006, their mother said she didn’t know where their talent came from. But Dan and Dennis remember a time when she asked them to draw Betty Boop for their little sister, Carmelinda Blagg. They wouldn’t do it, so she did. Both said it was spot on, but they haven’t seen her draw anything since. 
     “I wonder if she didn’t [sometimes] pick up a pencil and draw by herself, because that is who she was,” Carmelinda said.
     Their mother’s recent death deeply affected them, and they still feel her presence and hear her encouraging words as they fight with the typical doubt that comes with craft. “She and I were best friends. She was the salt of the Earth…She gave me that strength and willpower for us to become painters,” Dan said.
     And although she is gone, the love for her children and for fine arts will always be the glue that binds these guys together. “After this many years, it will be nice to have a little revelry and celebrate what [my brothers] have done,” baby brother Doug said.

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