Raised in an orphanage, Fargo native John Bernard Flannagan started as a painter at the Minneapolis School of Art. After wartime service, he became a professional artist when he was hired as a farm worker for painter Arthur B. Davies, who gave him further instruction. Flannagan realized that wood, then the stubborn fieldstones he found, were more interesting materials. He felt, "there exists an image within every rock.”
He carved directly, following hints or contours in the stone; his subjects were often animals and the works were relatively small. The sculptures look organic, as if they had “endured always,” and he felt connections to pieces from prehistoric Mexico. In 1927 he had his first one-man show. Travel and residence in Ireland, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and collection purchases by major museums as well as prestigious colleges (Harvard, Vassar, Oberlin) followed in the 1930s.
Sadly, he worked to exhaustion and then was the victim of a devastating car accident. Multiple surgeries sapped his strength and concentration. A career retrospective in 1942 came just six months after his passing. A scholarly article from 1943 called him “our best contemporary sculptor.”