Go west, young artist: Former East St. Louisan did and found success

News-DemocratDecember 29, 2013 

Artist Ted Blaylock gave away his prints from beneath Collinsville's Woodland Park pavilion on a warm fall afternoon.

Wildlife scenes of ducks in flight, soaring eagles and deer tromping through snow. Detailed mountain villages, trains with smoke trailing behind, workhorses pulling hay wagons.

Folks at his family reunion looked through and chose what they liked.

"I probably started out with maybe 150 prints," said Ted, 73, visiting from Mesa, Ariz. "They average $100 to $150."

The self-taught artist was born on a farm in Perryville, Mo., grew up in East St. Louis and graduated from East St. Louis High School in 1959.

"I was supposed to graduate in '57, but I had quit school," said Ted. "After a year of making 75 cents an hour, I went back. Later, I went to a trade school for welding."

He worked as a steamfitter for five years, creating art on the side. He and his brother, Charles, sold at shows and in their Collinsville gallery, House of Blaylock Fine Arts, which they opened in 1968.

"We wanted to be professional artists. At shows, if I put a $25 price tag on a painting, people would say, 'Would you take $15?' Out West they would say, 'Only $25?' It didn't take a rocket scientist to tell you where you ought to be. If you are ever going to be a Western artist, you must move West."

He did in 1972.

How did you go about it? "Me and my wife (Norma) and four children sold everything we had, which wasn't much, and moved to Mesa, Arizona. We put what we were taking in back of a little trailer ... We lived out of a motel for $8 a night for two to three weeks, then found a little house to rent. The twins were 12. Harold was 11 and we had a boy, 6.

"It was really a struggle. I was painting full time. I had to find a market where my art would sell. I started traveling on road shows with an art group from California. You would get on tour, 50 artists in a group, and would stay till your art ran out, then go back to the studio and paint.

"Acrylic was a brand new medium in the 1960s and '70s. Because of the flexibility of the paint -- it dried so quickly -- it allowed you to do work a lot faster. You had five times the productivity with acrylic. I held classes, teaching acrylic techniques. That helped us get by in the early years. The first year as an artist I earned $3,000."

How much did you get per painting? "$50 to $75. After two years, I was picked up by a major gallery. They said, 'We don't sell anything for (less than) $100. We will take you on, but we will be your only outlet for Arizona and Wyoming.' Within two years, I went from $75 a painting to $500. In two more years, it was $1,000. Before I knew it, it was $3,000, then $4,000. Was my work that much better? Not really. The market was better. I was there at the right time, when Western art was just budding."

What did you paint? "I started with landscapes. Artist Andrew Wyeth and his family gave credence to rural Americana with his art. It was so acceptable in the marketplace. Before, modern art was the trend. Realism was not considered great art. The Wyeth family made rural American scenes -- old barns, mailboxes on an old country road -- acceptable."

What's your favorite subject? "I really like two. One is old-time trains. The other is eagle art. I worked for the railroad in St. Louis. It was in 1940. I was a young man. I always remember the steam. There's so much nostalgia tied up in that period of time. Narrow gauge is what I like."

How much time do you spend painting? "In my production years, I could paint six days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day. My eyes are still good, but I tire easily. Now, it's 5 to 8 hours."

What happens after you do an original? "I put it into a licensing program. It's submitted out of New York to international buyers. They will use it from flat art to three- dimensional or on throws and rugs. One painting may sell for $10,000. It's not unrealistic for it to sell for $50,000."

How often do you come back to the metro-east? "Twice a year if I'm lucky. I have a home in Mesa, a home in Payson, and a cabin in Nutrioso. Because of the heat, we want to get out of the desert in the summertime and go farther up the mountain."

How did you get interested in art? "I had an aunt. We called her an aunt. She was probably a third cousin, Zella Blaylock Bruce. She was an accomplished artist. We had some of her paintings in our home. One was a little farm scene of our spring house where you kept perishables. It was a beautiful little landscape in spring colors. My brother and I would sit down and try to do that picture by Zella Bruce. I had that inborn talent where I could sketch and draw. 'Look what Teddy's doing,' kids would say. Any time you get the spotlight shined on you when you're a kid, it makes you feel good. Teachers always encouraged me."

To see more of Ted's art, go to blaylockoriginals.com

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