Perhaps some of the most iconic pieces of all Self-Taught and Outsider art, William Edmondson's works have crossed the aesthetic boundaries of genres ever since his 1937 solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, the first of any African-American artist. His carvings are equally at home in the context of 19th Century folk art, 20th Century Self-Taught and Outsider art, as well as modernist and contemporary sculpture.
Edmondson was born the son of slaves near Nashville, Tennessee in 1874. He worked various odd jobs throughout his life, and was briefly employed as a stonemason through the Works Progress Administration during the early years of the Great Depression. Following the loss of his janitor position at a local hospital, Edmondson, always a deeply religious individual, had a vision in which God appeared to him and told him to begin carving tombstones. Using the simplest of tools, Edmondson's yard was soon filled with his creations comprising tombstones, "miracles" and "critters". He worked in limestone because it was God's command, saying "'He just say: 'Will, cut that stone and it better be limestone too.''" (Edmund L. Fuller, Visions in Stone: The Sculpture of William Edmondson (Pittsburgh, 1973), p. 14). He was discovered in 1936 by Vanderbilt University professor Sidney Hirsch, who introduced Edmondson to his friends Alfred and Elizabeth Starr. Their friend, Harper's Bazaar photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe photographed the artist in his yard; these images were soon shown to Alfred H. Barr, Jr., then director of the Museum of Modern Art. Edmondson's solo show opened the following year. Edmondson continued to carve until four years before his death in 1951.
Mother and Child is one of at least six sculptures Edmondson carved depicting the same subject matter. It exhibits strict frontality with the wide-eyed gaze of both figures. The sharp angle of the back of the mother's dress, barely delineated, propel the couple forward.