As If Art Itself Devised It: The Virginia of Eldridge Bagley Folk Paintings
June 17, 2023 - January 7, 2024
A native of rural Lunenburg County in South Central Virginia, Eldridge Bagley, a third-generation tobacco farmer, began painting more than fifty years ago, when he was still living with his parents and working on their farm.
Although he insists that he doesn’t live in the past, he has often stated his belief that there are traditions, convictions, and values that never change and are worth preserving. This belief is central to his work.
His paintings evoke a time when relationships among family members and friends, as well as a life rooted in agrarian values, religion, and patriotism, merited celebration. Traditions that spring from a shared sense of community and a sense of connectedness are all aspects of his art. His work captures a lifestyle widely thought to be vanishing. Self-taught, he was inspired to make art by his chance discovery of the work of Grandma Moses in Reader’s Digest. From that moment, a lengthy career creating art that is as instantly recognizable for its style—detailed, colorful, layered—as for its subject matter steadily evolved.
His own experience of the backbreaking manual labor that farms demand has informed and enriched his paintings. Farm life itself, church meetings, outdoor Sunday suppers, tobacco markets, the rhythm of the year, and the change of seasons have provided him with subject matter and his life with meaning. He has achieved renown as a storyteller’s storyteller.
The dozens of paintings by Eldridge Bagley in the Morris’s collection came to the museum through his longtime patron and staunch supporter Julia J. Norrell.