Capturing rural life one painting at a time

Published 4:56 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Eldridge Bagley created his first painting on a paint-by-number set from a dime store in Victoria. Today, the contemporary folk artist’s works are displayed in galleries and museums, and one of his paintings can sell for upwards of thousands of dollars.

Bagley grew up on a small farm in Lunenburg County, where his family cultivated tobacco, grains, corn and wheat.

It had never occurred to him that he would follow a career in art.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I stayed and farmed here. But, I gradually realized that there was just something else pulling at me, and it was the creative drive,” said Bagley. When he visited Harrell’s Dime Store, he had no idea where to get art supplies. He had never been to an art gallery. For him, painting began as an experiment.

The focus of Bagley’s paintings and work are the land and the people of the south. He is inspired by the buildings, landscapes and people of the agrarian culture that he grew up in, and through his work he tries to tell the story of that way of life.

Bagley initially showed his work at small shows and banks in the area and gradually accumulated a following.

In 1979, he had his first exhibition in Richmond, and a door was opened to him. His work was featured in a series of galleries. He remained with Cudahy’s Gallery from 1981 to 2003 and is currently

represented by the Glave Kocen Gallery.

“My work has reached a fairly wide audience through all of these contacts,” said Bagley. “I have some people who collect my work. Through Julia Norrell, some of my work has gotten into the collections of museums in Georgia, Longwood (University) and other places.”

His most recent work is an oil on canvas winter scene titled “Home Fires,” which he plans to offer as a limited edition print later on in the year.

In 2011, the Folk Art Society of America named Bagley Artist of the Year. According to the Glace Koven, Bagley’s work has been described by critics as “multi-textured and highly original.”

Part of Bagley’s success is due to the support his wife, Beth.

“I’ve been picking up more and more of the non-painting part of his business to free him up to paint more. I was doing the framing, and then gradually I got more into the bookkeeping. I do the bookkeeping and some of the publicity stuff,” said Beth.

Aside from his painting, Bagley has also has had two books published through which he attempts to put into the words the story that he tells through his paintings. “Hounds Creek Chronicles” are Bagley’s personal recollection of farm life, but he believes they also tell the story of “a rugged lifestyle that has quietly slipped away.”

“Those who have observed farm life from a distance have often romanticized it, and some have portrayed it as a purely idyllic lifestyle,” Bagley summarizes in his book. “When I recall my early life on our southern Virginia farm, I don’t remember it as being quite that way.”

Through his art, Bagley captures the agrarian lifestyle of the south as it really is, and not in a manner that is contrived.

Bagley’s work and the work of a few other artists will be featured at a reception and show at the Longwood Center for Visual Arts in June.

“The focus of this exhibit, I think, is to show works that have been donated,” said Bagley. His work will also be featured in his home Lunenburg County in July.

“I’m very blessed,” said Bagley, who believes everyone should have the opportunity to use their gifts in the best way possible. “Overall it really has been a pretty amazing run.”

“Home Fires,” pictured above, is one of Eldridge Bagley’s most recent paintings, depicting old-style rural homes in a winter scene. The photos depicts the winter sky hovering above a scene of a family playing in the snow. He hopes to offer the oil on canvas painting as a limited edition print later this year. His first painting was created on a paint-by-number set brought in a dime store in Victoria.

Photo courtesy of Eldridge Bagley
“Dream Home” captures a young family looking at a home for sale along the countryside. Bagley said he seeks to capture “the agrarian lifestyle of the south as it really is.”