Symposium: William Edmondson in Context

September 24, 2021 – September 25, 2021

Symposium: William Edmondson in Context

Vanderbilt University and Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, Nashville, TN

On August 12, 2021, Cheekwood Estate & Gardens will open The Sculpture of William Edmondson: Tombstones, Garden Ornaments, and Stonework, the first solo large-scale museum presentation of the artist’s work in over twenty years. In conjunction with this exhibition, Cheekwood and the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at Vanderbilt University are pleased to announce a two-day scholarly symposium on the work and legacy of William Edmondson.

Friday, September 24
Location: Vanderbilt University

Jennifer Jane Marshall, Associate Professor of American Art at the University of Minnesota, will give the annual Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Lecture in Art History at Vanderbilt.

4:10 PM – 6:30 PM | The Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Lecture in Art History
“William Edmondson: Life and Work”
Jennifer Jane Marshall
Professor and Chair, Department of Art History
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
Free and open to the public


Saturday, September 25
Location: Cheekwood (Advanced registration required)

Cheekwood will host the symposium and exhibition study day.

8:30 AM – 9:00 AM | Registration / Coffee & Tea

9:00 AM – 9:10 AM | Opening Remarks
Marin R. Sullivan
Curator-at-Large
Cheekwood

9:10 AM – 10:00 AM | Keynote Lecture and Q&A
“Doing the Lord’s Work”: Spiritual Narratives in the Work of William Edmondson
Gwendolyn H. Everett
Associate Professor, Department of Art, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

10:00 AM – 10:15 AM | Break

10:15 AM – 11:15 AM | Session 1 Papers and Q&A

“Edmondson’s Forebears: Enslaves and Free Black Craftspeople in Antebellum Nashville”
Rachel Stephens
Associate Professor of Art History
University of Alabama

“The Artist on the Other Side of the Lens: Exploring Issues of Access and Fair Use for William Edmondson’s Art and Image”
Jane-Coleman Cottone
Independent Scholar
Nashville, TN

11:15 AM – 11:30 AM | Break

11:30 AM – 12:30 PM | Session 2 Papers and Q&A

“Black Study in the White Cube: Racialized Subjectivities and the Museum of Modern Art, ca. 1935”
David Sledge
PhD Candidate
Columbia University

“Reserved for the Future’” Marion Perkins’s Skywatchers
Tess Korobkin
Assistant Professor, Art History and Archaeology Department
University of Maryland, College Park


Attendees should feel free to explore the Cheekwood portion of The Sculpture of William Edmondson: Tombstones, Garden Ornaments, and Stonework after the completion of the symposium and are also encouraged to visit the presentation of the exhibition at the Fisk University Galleries as well.

About the Artist
William Edmondson (1874-1951) is today known as the most notable sculptor to emerge from Nashville during the 1930s and 40s, and remains one of the most important folk or self-taught American artists of the first half of the twentieth century. Edmondson has largely been confined to narratives that focus on his artistic discovery by white patrons in the 1930s, his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1937, his work’s formal resonance with so-called primitivism and direct carving techniques, and his place in the traditions of Black “outsider” art in the United States. This exhibition and corresponding symposium examine Edmondson’s work within these frameworks, but also aim to reconsider 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.

The Sculpture of William Edmondson: Tombstones, Garden Ornaments, and Stonework supported by

Additional support provided by


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