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John Bernard Flannagan - Artists - Spellman Gallery

Wildcat, ca. 1926–30

John Bernard Flannagan (1895 – 1942)

Sculptor John Flannagan was born in Fargo, North Dakota on April 7, 1895. His early life was a bitter struggle against poverty. Too poor to buy quarried stone, he picked up fieldstones for carving. He studied art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts from 1914 to 1917. Encouraged by Arthur B. Davies (for whom he worked as a farmhand in 1922-23) to carve directly in wood, Flannagan re-explored this kind of direct attack upon the material, as did Robert Laurent and William Zorach at the same time.

Flannagan’s early themes, displaying primitive influences, and invoking religious qualities, were inspired by female and animal forms, brought to life through rounded volumes and sharp planes. His sculptures, mainly of animals, range from profound to humorous in formation and are executed simply and directly. Flannagan began to carve directly in stone in 1926, preferring natural to quarried material. Especially in his sandstone, limestone and granite pieces, one senses his utter respect for natural form and texture, as if the living presence of each stone contributed to the life of the subjects chiseled into and released from it.

His style evolved through the influence of Celtic art and mythology on trips sponsored by the Weyhe Gallery to Ireland in 1930-31 and 1932-33, he eliminated detailing. He worked chiefly in fieldstone, and his pieces often reflected the themes of birth, death, and rebirth. Because of physical disabilities from a hit and run automobile accident, Flannagan committed suicide in 1942.

He is represented in the museums of various colleges including Vassar, Oberlin, Harvard, and the University of Nebraska. A mountain goat, Figure of Dignity, is in the Metropolitan Museum.

Sources include:
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from the Archives of AskART