William Edmondson (1874–1951) was the most notable sculptor active in Tennessee during the 1930s and 40s, and today he remains one of the most important American folk artists of the twentieth century. During his life he was well known for his yard art, such as whimsical birdbaths and “critters” of real and imaginary provenance, sculptures of everyday people, and the grave markers he carved for African American families.
The Sculpture of William Edmondson is the first museum examination of artist William Edmondson’s career in over twenty years. Featuring twelve of his sculptures, photographs by noted photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe, and ephemera, the exhibition draws upon new scholarship to contextualize Edmondson’s sculpture.
Edmondson has largely been confined to narratives that focus on his artistic “discovery” by white patrons in the 1930s, his work’s formal resonance with so-called primitivism and direct carving techniques, and his place in the traditions of African American “outsider” art. This exhibition revisits Edmondson’s work within these frameworks, but also seeks to reevaluate his sculpture on its own terms and as part of a comprehensive practice that included the creation of commercial objects rather than strictly fine art.
This project is being supported in whole or 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.