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Courting Lady, ca. 1940s

Artist: William Edmondson, American, 1874-1951

Medium: Limestone

15 1/2 x 5 7/8 x 8 in. (39.4 x 14.9 x 20.3 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of AutoZone, Inc.

Object Number: 2001.15.13

Copyright: © Estate of the artist

On View

Dorothy Sturm, Memphis, Tennessee, 1980; AutoZone, Inc., Memphis, Tennessee, 2001

William Edmondson’s parents were former slaves who supported themselves by sharecropping in Davidson County, Tennessee, although by 1907 the family had settled in Nashville. Edmondson, who worked as a janitor at the Woman’s Hospital, purchased the lot next door to his house and planted fruit trees and a garden. Here, in 1931, he set up his studio and commenced his extraordinary body of work.

 

A vision of God inspired Edmondson’s carving. He stated, “I was out in my driveway with some 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.”1 With a railroad spike and hammer, Edmondson embarked on a prolific career as a carver of “tombstones and garden ornaments,” as the sign on his studio advertised.

 

Edmondson carved many images of little ladies. The face of Courting Lady, like that of all of his figures, has generic features that do not appear to reference a specific race or person. Generally, the ladies are dressed in old-fashioned, floor-length dresses. This lady (one of two sculptures in the Brooks Collection) lifts her skirt, exposing her slip to attract a suitor. Her slip, with its smooth surface and zigzag hem, is differentiated from the dress, which has deeply carved grooves representing a fabric pattern. The head of the flat chisel he used is readily visible in the dress, where the path of each hammer blow can be seen. And, as is also typical of his work, attention has been lavished on her large bun.

 

Although Alfred H. Barr Jr. gave Edmondson a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1937, his work was shown infrequently during his lifetime. Since the 1970s, however, his sculpture has been exhibited with increasing frequency in both solo and group exhibitions.

 

1. John Thompson, Nashville Tennessean, February 9, 1941.