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William Edmondson (1874-1951)
William Edmondson (1874-1951)
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William Edmondson (1874-1951)

Nurse Wootton

William Edmondson (1874-1951)
Nurse Wootton
initialed WM on back of figure
20 1/2 in. high, 11 1/2 in. wide, 11 1/2 in. deep
John Henry and Ruth S. Denton, New Jersey and California, acquired directly from the artist in 1949
Thence by descent in the family
Nashville, Tennessee, Cheekwood Museum of Art, William Edmondson and Friends: Breaking the Mold, 27 September 2014 - 4 January 2015.

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Cara Zimmerman
Cara Zimmerman

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Lot Essay

In 1949, the New Jersey-based Denton family piled into a station wagon to visit William Edmondson, an African-American sculptor in Nashville, Tennessee. Fisk University anthropologist Gittel Poznansky had told the Dentons of Edmondson’s astounding yard, filled with finely-rendered limestone carvings, and had encouraged them to acquire a piece. Edmondson showed the family around his workshop and they returned home with this sculpture of a seated nude woman, whom the artist described as “Nurse Wootton.” According to Mark Schlicher, producer of the forthcoming Edmondson documentary Chipping Away, the artist was referring to Nina E. Wootton, the Director of Nursing at the Woman's Hospital of the State of Tennessee and Edmondson’s hard-nosed supervisor from his long-time job.

Edmondson carved from blocks of locally-gathered discarded building limestone and, on occasion, purchased stone from local suppliers. The graceful heft of Nurse Wootton speaks to the powerful combination of his weighty material and skillful, delicate carving technique. The artist's masterful chisel marks create the distinction between smooth skin and wavy hair; they fashion the weight of her buttocks and thighs against her seat, producing a distinction between flesh and furniture from a single stone.

Nurse Wootton is particularly distinctive because the artist initialed the back of the sculpture WM. Edmondson rarely signed his work, and the beautifully chiseled lettering on the plinth is in keeping with the outlined lettering on his tombstones. This sculpture is one of four known seated nudes by Edmondson, two of which are in the collection of the Cheekwood Museum of Art, Nashville, and is the only one signed by the artist.

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