Exposition Art Blog: William Edmondson

William Edmondson


 William Edmondson (1874–1951) was the first African-American folk art sculptor to be given a one-person show exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City
Edmondson entered the world of sculpture at the advanced age of about 60 years old in 1934. He reported that he received a vision from God, who told him to start sculpting: "I was out in the driveway with some old sculptures 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. I knowed it was God telling me what to do." He carved tombstones primarily from chunks of discarded limestone from demolished buildings, which were delivered to him by wrecking companies' trucks. A signature Edmondson tombstone reflects strong large lettering carved in the stone. He began his career by working on these tombstones, which he sold or gave to friends and family in the community. Wikipedia
"William Edmondson, son of Tennessee slaves, did not consider himself an artist when he began carving around 1932, after retiring from his job as a laborer. Inspired by a vision, he emphasized his divine calling, claiming, ​“Jesus has planted the seed of carving in me” and describing his works as ​“mirkels.” Edmondson carved gravestones, free-standing figurative sculpture, and garden ornaments, using discarded blocks of limestone and chisels fashioned from railroad spikes. Animals, biblical subjects, and secular figures like Eleanor Roosevelt and Nashville school teachers dominated his repertoire.
In several sculptures entitled Crucifixion, Edmondson celebrated Christ as the Savior, the most popular figure in the spiritual tradition of African-American art. The museum’s example  is an early version, once also called Baby Jesus. Its rectangular silhouette and upright frontality suggest the gravestone tablets that Edmondson saw in his original vision. Crucifixion retains a strong sense of the block’s shape and texture in its minimally articulated form and detail. Only the emphatic curves of the lower torso reveal Edmondson’s attempt to break away from the block, suggesting that he executed Crucifixion soon after he turned from carving gravestones to more imaginative, free-standing subjects. Compact and stylized, the sculpture conveys its spiritual message with the authority and immediacy of an archaic monument."(americanart.si.edu)


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