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

Lady, 1930s

William Edmondson (1874-1951)
Lady, 1930s
15 in. high, 4 ½ in. wide, 8 ½ in. deep
Rusty Freeman et al., The Art of William Edmondson (Cheekwood Museum of Art, 1999), p. 38.

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Lot Essay

William Edmondson worked as a janitor at the Woman’s Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, from around 1909 until 1930, and before that held various jobs around the city, ranging from farmhand to sewer worker. By the early 1930s, however, he had become his own boss: he established a stonecutting business next to his home to create tombstones for his community. Over time, he also began to carve freestanding sculptures of religious figures, famous and local people, and various animals. Edmondson’s yard quickly attracted attention from art lovers, including Louise Dahl-Wolfe, who photographed the artist and his work multiple times in 1936 and/or 1937. After seeing the Dahl-Wolfe images, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., then-director of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, organized a 1937 exhibition of works by the sculptor, making Edmondson the first African American to have a solo exhibition at MoMA. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Edmondson’s home remained a destination, drawing visitors such as famed photographer Edward Weston.

The present work reveals Edmondson's minimalist and modern carving aesthetic alongside his ability to incorporate popular culture in his sculpture. The geometry of Lady's triangular skirt and abstracted body is a sophisticated distillation of form, while her elaborate hairdo, unique within his body of work, reveals Edmondson's understanding of and interest in the style of his time and his community (for more on Edmondson's interest in hair, and the importance of hairstyles within African American culture, see Rusty Freeman, "Community Heroes in the Sculpture of William Edmondson," in The Art of William Edmondson).

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