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William Edmondson (1874-1951)
William Edmondson (1874-1951)
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AN ENQUIRING EYE: PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTOR
William Edmondson (1874-1951)

Figural Birdbath, 1930s

Details
William Edmondson (1874-1951)
Figural Birdbath, 1930s
limestone
39 in. high, 19 in. wide, 16 ¾ in. deep
Provenance
Elizabeth and Alfred Starr, Nashville, Tennessee (acquired directly from the artist)
Ricco Maresca Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above in 1989
Literature
Frank Maresca and Roger Ricco, American Vernacular (New York, 2002), p. 215.
Sale room notice
Please note, the estimate for Figural Birdbath, 1930s is $100,000-150,000.

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Cara Zimmerman
Cara Zimmerman

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Lot Essay

Figural Birdbath is an important example of Edmondson's minimalist and modern sculpture, highlighting the artist's ability to harness and transform repurposed materials and architectural elements in sophisticated ways. By capitalizing on the lines of the appropriated base to offset the remarkable rendering of a woman in the upper section of the column, Edmondson plays with texture and weight while recalling Greco Roman imagery. The artist created multiple birdbaths of varying complexity, but this work is unique in the shape of its basin, which evokes a religious font as much as it assumes the role of "Garden Ornament."
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, Garden Ornaments, Stone Works" for his community. Over time, he began to carve freestanding sculptures of religious figures, famous and local people and various animals as well as architectural elements such as birdbaths and large vases and cups. Edmondson carved from blocks of locally gathered discarded building limestone and, on occasion, purchased stone from local suppliers.
In 1936 Vanderbilt University affiliate Sidney Hirsch came across Edmondson’s yard, and he introduced his friends Alfred and Elizabeth Starr to the artist. The Starrs in turn brought Harper’s Bazaar photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe to visit, and she 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 in New York, authorized 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.
Birdbath descended in the family of Alfred and Elizabeth Starr, two of Edmondson's earliest and most steadfast supporters and collectors.
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