Charlie Stagg, visionary artist dies at 72

 The house that Charlie Stagg built is a sprawling complex of beams and bottles and concrete, with a big domed building that serves as his studio. Charlie did the work himself, hauling all the materials in “the way bugs do it,” he told the guys from Rare Visions,” a little at a time.” He also sculpted huge helixes, DNA-like strands of color that reach second story heights.

The Vidor, TX visionary artist had been in and out of the hospital recently and died early Monday after suffering burns at his home after losing consciousness and falling in an open fire pit. Stagg, who lived in an unconventional home that began as an art research project in 1981, has created work that has been featured in the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Md., National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and the New York Times. His work is also on display at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas.

The above photos are courtesy of Larry Harris 

More beautiful photos and a moving tribute can be found on his grand-nephew Ryan Price’s website. http://thoughtsbyryan.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/a-tribute-to-a-great-artist-charles-stagg/

An excerpt from the Houston Chronical,
Reclusive Vidor artist dies following burns
By Allan Turner
Updated 11:38 p.m., Monday, February 20, 2012

“The only way you can progress to cultural enlightenment,” Stagg said in a 2010 interview, “is to get where you’re not comfortable anymore. … You choose to be creative rather than accumulate things. I don’t have anything against money. I just can’t spend my life doing false things to accumulate it. I do what I have to do, and if it doesn’t work that way, I’ve had a good life.”

He ‘lived his art’

Although early in his career Stagg produced pastoral paintings and portraits, his mature art was marked by a series of spiraling wooden sculptures resembling strands of DNA. One of his larger works, Tree of Life, which stands 40 feet tall, is featured at Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum. Smaller works are on view at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in Beaumont.

“He was an artist who lived his art,” said Lynn Castle, the Beaumont museum’s executive director. “The wood for a lot of his sculptures came from the pine trees on his property. He would rely on the material to guide the direction of the art.”

Despite his training, Stagg was viewed by many as a folk artist.

“He was very eccentric,” Castle said. “But he was very well-spoken about his own art. He could talk very intelligently about his influences and why he did what he did.” Visitors to Stagg’s compound often found it littered with fine art journals and magazines.

“His wood carving was pretty amazing,” Houston art collector Stephanie Smither said. “He would take branches of trees and whittle them to make all kinds of forms. … The way he could make movement, create movement in a piece of wood was so interesting.”

Stagg’s grand-nephew, Ryan Price, a College Station wedding photographer, said the sculptor was a “deep thinker” who enjoyed mentoring younger artists. “He really cared a lot about building up people, spurring them on,” Price said.

No neighbors

Stagg said he chose a life of relative solitude because he found art world “committees” and conviviality adverse to his work. “This is what I’m going for and I can’t be pressured by others,” he said.

His compound, which at the time of his death consisted of several outbuildings and a bottle-studded, cone-like domicile about 30 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall, sat about a mile from the nearest road.

He lived without neighbors, computers or air conditioning, although visitors frequently would arrive – children in tow – without notice for impromptu tours. Friends in the Beaumont art community often donated truck loads of cans, which Stagg stacked and coated with concrete, and bottles.

Among Stagg’s few modern conveniences were a small electric fan and a radio, on which he listened to National Public Radio broadcasts. Stagg’s residence burned in 2006, and, recently, he lived in a small travel trailer while he rebuilt.

Stagg, who suffered from a heart condition, received severe burns after he lost consciousness and fell into an open fire pit, according to the Beaumont Enterprise. He died Monday at the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Blocker Burn Unit. Price said Stagg recently had suffered ill health and “been in and out of the hospital.”

“I’m just trying to live a good life that’s productive,” Stagg said in 2010, “and to help people through knowledge.”

allan.turner@chron.com