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William Edmondson: The Hand and the Spirit

Through August 7, 2011

William Edmondson (1874-1951), the son of freed slaves, was born in rural Davidson County and moved to Nashville by 1890. Working first at the railroad and then as a janitor at the Nashville Woman's Hospital, he lived at 1434 Fourteenth Avenue South surrounded by family and a vibrant community. At the age of 57, Edmondson began working with limestone using a hammer and a railroad spike. "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 day light He hung a tombstone out for me to make," he explained.

Edmondson carved for 17 years. He said, "I am just doing the Lord's work. I ain't got much style; God don't want much style, but He gives wisdom and sends you along." Truly Edmondson drew his subjects from his world, both real and imagined. Critters like rabbits and bears, from folktales, Adam and Eve from the Bible, and nurses from the Woman's Hospital joined neighbors on porch swings and preachers with Bibles in a cast of characters that inhabited his yard. Crafted by a skilled hand, Edmondson's sculptures are a testament to one man's ability to transform observation and imagination into objects that continue to inspire us today.

William Edmondson stands among the most important self-taught artists of the past century. As the first African-American artist to receive a solo exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art (1937), Edmondson claims a national place in the history of American Art.

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