Wednesday, January 20, 2010

William Edmondson (c. 1870 - 1951) sculptor

"I was out in my 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"
- William Edmondson

William Edmondson by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, gelatin silverprint, Cheekwood Museum of Art, Nashville, TN.

William Edmondson was born in Davidson County, Tennessee c.1874. By 1890, he had moved to Nashville, where he lived and worked on 14th Avenue South. In his late fifties, he began carving tombstones for two African-American cemeteries, Mount Ararat and Greenwood.

"Funerary practices had long provided a traditional outlet for southern black culture, and Edmondson first emerged as an artist within this framework. A devoted member of the United Primitive Baptist Church, Edmondson often credited his artistic energy and purpose to divine vision. His earliest efforts were gravestones, sometimes composed of several stacked geometric elements, sometimes also incorporating bird or animal forms. From this traditional context, Edmondson's carvings soon showed the influence of popular imagery in lambs, doves, and other forms. He expanded his repertory to include preachers, women, famous figures, and creatures of his imagination." (quote source: The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture)

William Edmondson's Sculpture Yard by Edward Weston, Nashville, 1941, gelatin silverprint, © 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

William Edmondson, Untitled (Three Doves), c. 1935-1940, Limestone, 7 1/4 x 10 1/4 x 6"
(photo source: Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century: An American Anthology, Museum of American Folk Art, New York © 1998)

William Edmondson, Mermaid, Limestone (photo by Fred Giampietro)

William Edmondson, Rabbit, Limestone (photo by Rusty Freeman)

William Edmondson, Mary and Martha, 1930s, Limestone, 13 7/8 x 16 3/4 x 5 1/4"
(photo source: Religious Folk Art in America: Reflections of Faith by C. Kurt Dewhurst et al., E.P. Dutton, Inc., New York © 1983)

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