Woodrow Marshall Blagg, Jr., a Pennsylvania-based artist with deep connections to Fort Worth, Texas, died on Saturday, April 1, at the age of 76.
Best known for his large-scale hyper-realistic graphite drawings depicting cowboy culture, Mr. Blagg was also an accomplished photographer and inspired his younger brothers, Daniel, Dennis, and Doug, to pursue the arts.
Woodrow Blagg was born on November 19, 1946 in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania to Woodrow Marshall and Mary J. Blagg. He and his twin brother, David, were the oldest in a family of ten children. The Blagg family was raised in rural Oklahoma and West Texas prior to setting more permanent roots in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Mr. Blagg demonstrated artistic talent at a young age. He had his first art exhibition at the age of 13 and encouraged his brothers in their artistic endeavors.
In a 2014 article in Fort Worth Magazine, Daniel Blagg explained, “Woody always pursued art. He has had it in his blood forever.”
Dennis Blagg added, “Watching my brother Woodrow draw made my stomach tickle, and it enchanted me to try it myself.”
Mr. Blagg attended the Dallas Art Institute and later the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia. Artistically he was influenced by painter and illustrator N.C. Wyeth and his son, painter Andrew Wyeth, who served on the board of PAFA during the time Mr. Blagg was enrolled.
Though Mr. Blagg spent years in Pennsylvania, he was enamored with traveling and being in nature. He spent time exploring Europe, Maine, and Canada before returning to Texas. During a 1979 visit to the W. T. Waggoner Ranch with his brother Jim, Mr. Blagg was enchanted by the landscape, the animals, and the community, which sparked an ongoing interest in depicting life on the ranch.
In a quote published on his website, Mr. Blagg spoke about his piece ELECTRA, Texas, saying, “This was the first time I came to the Waggoner Ranch, In 1979 — it was the day after Wichita Falls and Vernon, Texas, were devastated by the tornado. There were five or six tornados just on the ranch before and all the trucks got bogged — they couldn’t get to the pens for branding so they branded out in the open field. These horses were tired and up against pens — there is something quiet and dignified about that.”
Mr. Blagg returned to the ranch often to take photographs and engage in ranch work. Through his time there he developed friendships and gathered images and experiences that would continue to shape his art, both in the content he produced and in the way he worked.
Mr. Blagg explained, “I would go back to the studio and start a four- or five-foot drawing, but that didn’t work. I just kept adding pieces of paper on the end of what I’d been completing, and three weeks later, I had a rough sketch that was twenty-one feet long. I found that scale worked. It connected to the experience that I had.”
Over the decades, Mr. Blagg’s work has been exhibited at venues across Texas and the United States, including Artspace111 and William Campbell Gallery in Fort Worth, Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Gardens in Dallas, the Art Center Waco, The Old Jail Art Center in Albany, Gremillion & Co. Fine Arts and Ellio Fine Art in Houston, Valley Fine Art in Aspen, Colorado, and ACA Galleries in New York. Additionally, in 1982 he was invited to the White House, where he presented President Ronald Reagan with a large drawing depicting ranch life. Mr. Blagg’s work is also in corporate and private collections, including a piece which is on view at the Ralph Lauren New York corporate office.
Though Mr. Blagg eventually left Texas and resettled in Eckley, Pennsylvania with his life partner, Tish Grosek, he maintained a connection to the state and to Fort Worth particularly. He was commissioned by Texas Christian University (TCU) alumni Larry Brogdon to complete a large-scale drawing for the college’s Institute for Environmental Studies. In preparation for the work, Mr. Blagg accompanied Mike Slattery, TCU’s director of the Institute for Environmental Studies, and a group of students on a trip to South Africa. As part of TCU’s Rhino Initiative program, the group of student veterinarians were working on the Amakhala Game Reserve.
Speaking of Mr. Blagg, Mr. Slattery said, “He was transfixed. During his ten-day stay at Amakhala, he came out with the students on all procedures, but he also spent some ‘alone’ time with our rangers among the rhino crashes. On the actual procedure, he simply stayed ‘in the moment,’ and I think that emotion and connection come across in the drawing.”
In November 2021, Mr. Blagg completed his final work, a 15-foot mixed graphite drawing depicting the TCU students tending to a rhinoceros. The work is a culmination of hundreds of photographs that Mr. Blagg took during the trip. He stated that for every person in the drawing he had 30-40 pictures from which to study. In total, the process took seven and a half months to complete. The work is on display at TCU’s Brown-Lupton University Union.
A celebration of life was held on Tuesday, April 25 at Artspace111. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the TCU Rhino Initiative (c/o Mike Slattery, Institute for Environmental Studies, Texas Christian University, P.O. Box 298830, Fort Worth, TX 76129), the PA Rhino Conservation Advocates (PARCA) Inc., or The American Cancer Society.