Published: January 23, 2001
ATLANTA, GA. – The High Museum of Art Folk and Photography Galleries will host the nationally acclaimed, touring exhibition “The Art of William Edmondson” from February 24 to May 19. This is the first exhibition of Edmondson’s work to tour nationally; the last retrospective appeared 19 years ago.
The High’s presentation of “The Art of William Edmondson” showcase 40 of his masterful limestone sculptures and over 40 historical photographs by Edward Weston, Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Consuelo Kanaga, documenting the artist’s working process and providing a contextual background for the show.
“This exhibition of sculpture and photography offers unusual insight into the breadth and timeless force of Edmondson’s achievements. His sculptural works are striking in their sophistication. There is tremendous emotion and power in these elegant, simplified forms,” states Lynne Spriggs, curator of folk art for the High. “The exhibition’s black-and-white photographs, taken by Edward Weston and others, help tell the story of where and how this American master worked,” she added.
A native of Nashville, Tenn., Edmondson (1874-1951) was born to freed slaves and worked many jobs throughout his life. During the Depression, Edmondson left his job at a Woman’s hospital and began carving tombstones that were used at Mt Ararat and Greenwood, the two African American cemeteries in Nashville.
The artist began this new career as the result of what he considered divine inspiration. The artist described the story of how God spoke to him through a religious “vision” at age 56: ” I was out in the driveway with some old pieces of stone when I heard a voice telling me to pick up my tools and start to work on a tombstone. I looked up in the sky and right there in the noon daylight He hung a tombstone out for me to make.”
Working with handmade tools and discarded limestone blocks form demolished buildings, Edmondson began making tombstones. As his carving skills grew, he expanded his subject matter to include human figures, birdbaths, animals, and other forms.
Louise Dahl-Wolfe, a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar, visited Edmondson in Nashville several times and photographed him working in his backyard. She showed her photos to Alfred Barr, then director of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1937 this introduction resulted in Edmondson becoming the first African American artist to have a solo exhibition at MoMA. Today, Edmondson is hailed as one of the great American masters of Twentieth Century self-taught art.
This retrospective is organized and circulated by Cheekwood Museum Art, Nashville, Tennessee. This traveling exhibition and catalogue are supported in part by grants from the Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The High Museum of Art Folk and Photography Galleries are downtown in the Georgia Pacific Center, near the Peachtree Center MARTA station, at 133 Peachtree Street, at John Wesley Dobbs Avenue. The hours are from 10 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday. For information 404/577-6940. Admission to the Folk Art and Photography Galleries is free.
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