William Edmondson

William Edmondson (1874 or 1875 – 1951) was an African-American folk artist and sculptor from Nashville, Tennessee. He is notable for being the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City in 1937. Edmondson worked as a manual laborer for most of his life until he received a vision from God, instructing him to “pick up his tools and start to work.” Following this divine calling, he began creating limestone sculptures, often using discarded material from construction sites. His works primarily depicted animals, biblical figures, and people from the local community.

Edmondson’s sculptures were characterized by their simplicity and directness, often featuring rough, unpolished surfaces. He used basic tools, such as a hammer and chisel, to shape the stone and create expressive and evocative forms. His work captured the spirit of his subjects while maintaining a sense of abstraction and folk art charm. Despite facing financial challenges and racial discrimination, Edmondson’s talent gained recognition in the art world. In addition to his exhibition at MoMA, he participated in other prominent shows and received favorable reviews. His work appealed to collectors, and he sold many sculptures to individuals and institutions.

After Edmondson’s death in 1951, interest in his artwork declined. However, his contributions to American folk art were rediscovered and celebrated in subsequent years. His sculptures are now highly regarded, and his pieces can be found in various museums and private collections across the United States.

William Edmondson’s work is cherished for its authenticity, spiritual depth, and its representation of African-American artistic expression during a time of racial segregation and limited opportunities for Black artists. His legacy continues to inspire and influence contemporary artists interested in folk art and sculpture.

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