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McClung Museum to Feature One of the Most Significant Collections of Tennessee Artist William Edmondson in New Exhibition 

Limestone sculpture of man holding a bible carved by William Edmondson c. 1940

Preacher, c. 1940, William Edmondson (1874–1951), Limestone, McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, University of Tennessee, Acquired through US Works Progress Administration (WPA), Federal Arts Project, 1941, 1993.9.1.

The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture is proud to announce the special exhibition, The Sculpture of William Edmondson: Tombstones, Garden Ornaments, and Stonework, in partnership with Cheekwood Estate & Gardens. The exhibition is sponsored by the University of Tennessee Division of Diversity and Engagement and will run from January 13 to May 14, 2023.

The exhibition reexamines and recontextualizes the life and work of African American artist William Edmondson (1874–1951). Edmondson is the most significant sculptor to emerge from Tennessee during the 1930s and 40s and remains one of the leading American artists of the twentieth century. 

During Edmondson’s life, he was well known for his yard art, including whimsical birdbaths, fanciful “critters,” sculptures of everyday people, and grave markers he carved for African American families. This is the first large-scale museum exhibition of the artist’s career in over twenty years.

“The McClung Museum is fortunate to have several sculptures by William Edmondson, one of Tennessee’s most important artists, in our collections,” said Claudio Gómez, executive director of the McClung Museum. “We are thrilled to be able to display many of Edmondson’s works in this exhibition and to celebrate how this artist rose to international prominence despite the challenges of the Jim Crow-era South.” 

Edmondson has largely been confined to narratives that focus on his artistic “discovery” by white patrons in the 1930s, and his place in the traditions of what is denigratingly referred to as “outsider” art. While this exhibition revisits how these frameworks impacted Edmondson’s career, it also reevaluates and recenters his work as an artist.  

The exhibition draws upon new scholarship to contextualize Edmondson’s career and features twelve of his sculptures, related ephemera, and photographs by noted photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe. Among those works on display are several given to the University of Tennessee by Edmondson in the early 1940s, including his celebrated sculpture, Preacher and Bride. 

“The Division of Diversity and Engagement is proud to be a sponsor of the McClung Museum’s featured exhibit on the sculpture of William Edmondson,” said UT Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Engagement Tyvi Small. “From his early days as a tombstone carver for Nashville’s African American community to later exhibiting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Mr. Edmondson’s unique talent and passion for his faith have earned him the respect of many.” 

In addition to Edmondson’s art, the McClung Museum will host several events centered around the exhibition’s themes throughout the semester. Visit for more details.

The McClung Museum will present a scaled-down version of Cheekwood Estate & Garden’s original exhibition, The Sculpture of William Edmondson. The initial exhibition was organized by former Cheekwood Curator-at-Large Marin R. Sullivan, with support from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Terra Foundation for American Art, and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art.  

About the McClung Museum 

The McClung Museum is at 1327 Circle Park Drive. Museum admission and parking is free, and the museum’s hours are Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday 12–4 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to pre-register for free museum tickets at 



Media Contact:

For more information, please contact Emily Reichard at 865-974-3347 or


Special Thanks to Our Sponsors

This exhibition is sponsored by the University of Tennessee Division of Diversity and Engagement and supported in part by federal award number 21.027 awarded to Knox County by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Arts & Culture Alliance.

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