A “holy grail” of American folk art, hidden in plain sight

A “holy grail” of American folk art, hidden in plain sight

Edmondson, who was self-taught, was born on a plantation near Nashville, Tenn., To once enslaved parents. He began carving in 1934, when he was around 60, after reporting seeing a vision from God, who told him to start working on a gravestone.

He carved tombstones from scraps of discarded limestone from demolished buildings, as well as lawn ornaments, birdbaths, and decorative carvings. Her work often featured Biblical figures – sisters Martha and Mary were among her favorites – as well as angels, animals, and community leaders. He forged his own scissors from railroad spikes and sold gravestones to neighbors for a few dollars.

It caught the attention of the art world around 1936 when a neighbor, writer Sidney Mttron Hirsch, stumbled upon Edmondson’s extensive sculpture collection. A pair of Hirsch’s friends, Alfred and Elizabeth Starr, introduced Edmondson to several of their artist friends, including Louise Dahl-Wolfe, photographer for Harper’s Bazaar magazine in New York. She brought Edmondson’s work to the attention of Alfred H. Barr Jr., the director of the Museum of Modern Art.

One of Edmondson’s sculptures, “Boxer,” sold for $ 785,000 at Christie’s in 2016, setting a record not only for Edmondson’s work, but for any work of brut art.

So, could there be more Edmondson in the Midwest?

“Over the years, I have heard collectors say that it was very possible that there was an Edmondson garden piece in someone’s backyard that was covered in weeds and stuck in the ground.” , Foster said. ” Who knows? I never dreamed that one of his works would somehow magically make it to Saint-Louis.


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