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Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Edmondson with Schoolteacher, n.d. Silver print. Gift of the artist. 1964.3.2. (right)

William Edmondson, Schoolteacher, c. 1937. Limestone. Gift of John Thompson Jr. 1960.1. David Almeida Photography. (left) 

“Except for a trip to Memphis, he never left Nashville.”

William Edmondson was born in Davidson County, Tennessee. He died and laid to rest three miles away from the place he was born. Edmondson did not move. But Edmondson made things that moved.

William Edmondson was a prolific sculptor in the 1930s and 1940s. He began by making gravestones but quickly expanded his practice to include stand-alone works that he summoned from stone – angels, boxers, horses, church ladies, birds and rams. In histories of folk art, Edmondson holds forefather status. He is best known as the first black artist to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

Location was everything to Edmondson. When the artist moved into Nashville proper, in the now Edgehill Village area, he had a house at 1434 14th Avenue South. His house was very close to Peabody College. Edmondson sculpted in a workshop in his backyard. Peabody professor Sidney Hirsch often walked past Edmondson’s home, due to its proximity to the college. Hirsch admired his work. Hirsch then introduced Edmondson to Alfred and Elizabeth Starr. The Starrs were well-connected art lovers and harped about his work to their friend Louise Dahl-Wolfe, a New York photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. Dahl-Wolfe purchased works and took images of the artist.

It was Dahl-Wolfe that shared Edmondson’s work to her friends in the New York, including those at MoMA. Alfred Barr, Jr., MoMA’s director at the time of his 1937 show, said that Edmondson sculpted “with extraordinary courage and directness to carve out simple, emphatic forms. The spirit of his work does not betray the inspiration which he believes to be his active guide.”

“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.” 

Edmonson 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.

In 1938, MoMA included one of his Mary and Martha pieces in its exhibition Three Centuries of American Art seen at the Jeu de Paume in Paris, France. These back-to-back exhibitions highlighted Edmondson’s status as one of America’s most important “outsider” artists. Edmondson had no aspirations to become an artist and did not have any formal artistic education. However, it was his lack of training that appealed to the American Scene movement in the 1930s and 1940s, which valued vernacular art production that was uniquely American. His work was celebrated at MOMA as evidence of the primitive roots of modern American art.

Major pieces now reside in public collections around the United States, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Newark Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and, of course, Cheekwood being the largest repository of his work.

Cheekwood is very honored to have such a large collection of Edmondson’s work with 22 works. We also have a selection of photographs taken by Dahl-Wolfe used to lure her New York friends. Cheekwood Museum of Art’s collecting history is deeply connected to Edmondson’s work. Edmondson, like Cheekwood, never left Nashville and yet has had national and global preeminence. Both have had to settle so that its reach can go global.

These #5WomenArtists and several others bring unique mediums, talent, and beauty to our collection. We are proud to display some of their work at Cheekwood and very excited to advocate for the acknowledgement of all women artists, past and present. Are you interested in supporting women artists alongside Cheekwood and the National Museum of Women in the Arts? We encourage you to keep learning about women in the arts, to start conversations with your friends, and to use the hashtag #5WomenArtists to promote this necessary campaign on social media. Learn more about the NMWA campaign here.

Lillian Genth (1876-1953) was an American Impressionist painter. In 1900, Genth won the Elkins Scholarship and traveled to Paris. She studied under James McNeil Whistler. Under Whistler, her paintings began to adopt tonalist qualities. Her work focuses on female forms and landscapes, or Mother Earth. In 1908, Genth was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate. She was the youngest woman ever elected to this position. Cheekwood holds Summer Afternoon in its permanent collection. In this work, Genth presents an elegant woman pausing on a sunny porch, looking down to touch summer flowers in a brass bowl. Genth relates the woman to the vase of flowers by painting both in the same palette. Like the woman, the flowers are valued for their beauty. They have been cut from the garden and are separated from the earth, just as the woman is in some sense separated of her true nature. Genth’s work is in many private collections and museums, including the National Gallery of Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Summer Afternoon will be on view at Cheekwood in the exhibition In Bloom: Works from Cheekwood’s Permanent Collection from March 21, 2019 – September 1, 2019.

Lillian Genth. Summer Afternoon, c. 1910. Oil on canvas. Transfer from the Nashville Museum of Art. 1960.2.36

Diana Al-Hadid (b. 1981) was born in 1981 in Aleppo, Syria. She was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and currently lives and works in New York. Al-Hadid’s large-scale sculptures and wall hangings are the outcome of process-based investigations into materials, including fiberglass, polymer, steel, and plaster.

Exploiting the innate tension between mass and gravity, Al-Hadid is particularly interested in the point at which her works are fixed to the ground, often seeking to create what she describes as “something that seems improbable.” Making drawings since her adolescent years with her grandmother, Al-Hadid creates meticulous renderings driven by a fascination with the depiction of space and perspective. While critics often cite Al-Hadid’s Syrian background as influential to her ornate works, the artist is just as likely to reference to ancient Rome, the Renaissance, or Mannerist painting. In May, Al-Hadid’s work will be shown in Nashville for the first time. In a collaboration between Cheekwood and the Frist Art Museum, Al-Hadid’s works will be able to interact with the outdoors, as well as in the museum. This joint exhibition, Sublimations, will be on view at Cheekwood May 24, 2019 – September 1, 2019.

Diana Al Hadid. Citadel, 2017-2018, (part of the exhibition Delirious Matter). Steel polymer gypsum, fiberglass, paint, aluminum, and bronze Commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York, and made possible at Williams College by a generous contribution from Seton Melvin ’82 and the Williams College Public Art Fund, established by the Class of 1961. Installation Photo by Elyse Mack.

Marilyn Murphy (b. 1950) is a painter based in Nashville, Tennessee. Murphy is a Professor Emerita in the Department of Art at Vanderbilt University. Her oil paintings and drawings create curious situations implying a larger story that often explores dualities both formally and conceptually. Most often in Murphy’s work, her subjects are females showing strength, independence and intelligence. Her breadth of work seems to focus on women breaking from the archetype of the gentile southern homemaker, and reclaiming their spot in the forefront of society. Most of her work forces viewers into a sort of fantasy that is only created and imagined by Murphy. Murphy’s work has been shown in more than 300 exhibitions nationally and abroad. Recently, she had solo exhibitions at Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago and Cumberland Gallery in Nashville. In 2004, the Frist Center for the Visual Art had a mid-career survey of her paintings, drawings and prints. The Long Haul by Murphy is in Cheekwood’s permanent collection.

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