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Sculpture, limestone, William Edmondson (American, 1874-1951), c.1931-1939, gift of 1993.9.1.

“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. I knowed it was God telling me what to do.” William Edmondson reported his sign from God and his source of inspiration to sculpt in 1932.

Edmondson worked and lived in the Nashville area. He was the son of two former slaves and lived alone all of his life. His infamous sculptures are mainly burial related carvings and heavily dependent on his Baptist faith. Edmondson rose to prominence in the art world when him and his work were “discovered” by a white neighbor. Through several connections, Edmondson went from making tombstones for his local community to having a one man show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1937. After his MoMA debut, Edmondson’s sculptures were shown in the Paris, “Three Centuries of American Art” show in 1938. Edmondson never collected any large sum of money from these extremely prominent shows.

Interest in Edmondson’s work was unfortunately short lived as many viewed his art as nothing more than primitive work made by an uneducated or trained African American. He died in February 1, 1951 in an unmarked grave in Mr. Ararat Cemetery in Nashville.

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