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William Edmondson (b. America, 1882?-1951), Little Woman, n.d., limestone, 15 x 7 x 6 inches
A native of Nashville and the son of former slaves, William Edmondson was the first African-American artist to be featured in a solo show at New York's Museum of Modern Art (1937). He grew up in Nashville and started working at the age of 16. He performed menial jobs for almost 25 years, working as a manual laborer, fireman, railroad man and hospital janitor. He never leanred to read or write, and he never married. Following his retirement, he sold vegetables that he gew in his backyard.
Edmondson's first works were memorial gravestones; later he created animal, human and celestial figures. His carvings were inspired by his faith, community and culture. He received a vision from God, who told him to start sculpting: "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." He sold his sculptures along with his vegetables and provided tombstones for members of Nashville's African-American community.
His art was recognized by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, who was a photographer working for Harper's Bazaar magazine. She brought his sculptures to the attention of Alfred Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Edmondson was accorded a one-man show at the MoMA in 1937. His career lasted for about 15 years. During some of this time, he worked under the Works Progress Adminisration, creating carvings of his choice.
Using a minimal amount of detail, Edmondson emodies a sense of strength and determination in this sculpture. The Little Woman had real character and style.