William Edmondson (1870-1951)
Birdbath Sculpture w. female figures front and verso, c. 1940
Media: Carved Tennessee Limestone
Dimensions: 32 x 27 x 13 inches
the child of freed slaves, is among the most acclaimed of sculptors in
America. Like so many Black men of his times, he started adulthood as a
menial laborer, yet he became the first Black artist to be given a one
person exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. His classic works
are timeless, simple yet sophisticated, beautiful and intuitively
Brancusi-like. Most of his work now resides in the major museums of
this country. Whatever the artist touched, his fundamental religious
beliefs, his simple straightforward style, and his inner visions were
added to the stone.
Edmondson: Tennessee State Museum Retrospective,
1981-Nashville, TN Illustrated p. 87, in exhibition catalog.
Museum of Art, 1999, Nashville, TN, Illustrated in The Art of William
Edmondson, catalogue number, 55, p200. (Excerpt from entry-
Birdbaths remain Edmondson's most technically demanding and visually complex
works of art. Seen in this, possibly Edmondson's best birdbath, is the
stunning bows that surround the caryatid.)
American Folk Art, New York, NY
Gallery at the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
of Art, Atlanta, GA
Museum of American Folk Art, Orlando, FL, 2000-01
|A native of Nashville and the son of
former slaves, William Edmondson was the first African-American artist
to be featured in a solo show at New York's Museum of Modern Art (1937).
For this exhibition MoMA director Alfred Barr remarked, "Usually the
na´ve artist works in the easier medium of painting. Edmondson, however,
has chosen to work in limestone, which he attacks with extraordinary
courage and directness, to carve out simple, emphatic forms." Robert
Bishop, the late director of the Museum of American Folk Art, declared
Edmondson to be "one of the outstanding folk carvers--if not the
outstanding one--of the twentieth century."
Edmondson's first works were memorial gravestones. Later he created
animal, human, and celestial figures. His carvings were inspired by his
faith, community, and culture. He told the story of how God spoke to
him. "I was out in the driveway with some old pieces of stone when I
heard a voice telling me to pick up my tools and start to work on a
tombstone. I looked up in the sky and right there in the noon daylight
He hung a tombstone out for me to make."
Showcasing Edmondson's sculpture and placing it in the mainstream of
American art for the first time, the Cheekwood Museum of Art in
Nashville organized a traveling exhibition to four other museum venues
of about 40 pieces of his work in 2000-2001.
Special Periodical References are:
"The New York Times" (long feature story with photos), Sunday May 14,
2000 in Art/Architecture section.
"Folk Art Magazine" (feature story and front cover), Spring 2000.
Altered Views in the House of Modernism, Roberta
Smith, New York Times, April 29, 2005