The Sculpture of William Edmondson: Tombstones, Garden Ornaments, and Stonework, Edited by Marin Sullivan

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William Edmondson (1874-1951) was the first African American sculptor to have a one-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Edmondson started sculpting in his late fifties, after the Nashville Women’s Hospital, where he worked as a janitor, closed. During his life he was well known for his yard art, such as whimsical birdbaths and “critters” of real and imaginary provenance, and the grave markers he carved for African American families. His sculptures are now highly sought after by collectors.

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The Sculpture of William Edmondson: Tombstones, Garden Ornaments, and Stonework is the first large-scale museum examination of artist William Edmondson’s career in over twenty years. Organized by Cheekwood Curator-at-Large Marin R. Sullivan, the exhibition draws upon new scholarship and methodologies to contextualize Edmondson’s sculpture, both within the histories of Nashville during the Interwar years and the art histories of modern art in the United States.

Edmondson has largely been confined to narratives that focus on his artistic discovery by white patrons in the 1930s, his work’s formal resonance with so-called primitivism and direct carving techniques, and his place in the traditions of African American “outsider” art. This exhibition revisits Edmondson’s work within these frameworks, but also seeks to reevaluate his sculpture on its own terms and as part of a comprehensive practice that included the creation of commercial objects rather than strictly fine art.

The exhibition’s title references the sign that hung on the outside of Edmondson’s studio, advertising what was for sale and on view to the public in his yard, including tombstones, birdbaths, and statuary meant to be used and intended for outdoor rather than gallery display.

The Sculpture of William Edmondson: Tombstones, Garden Ornaments, and Stonework, Edited by Marin Sullivan
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