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Chipping Away: The Life and Legacy of Sculptor William Edmondson

Mark Schlicher
Mark Schlicher, Jackie Welch Schlicher

Meet the greatest artist you've never heard of.

In 1937, William Edmondson became the first African American to earn a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art. The retired janitor-turned-tombstone carver was a very unlikely choice, in an unlikely time and place. But he was gifted and tireless, and his genius was eventually recognized and championed by a group of local white artists who were determined to tell the world about him.

Edmondson’s story is a story of inspiration, determination, and faith. And It’s a story of friendships…friendships that crossed the color line at a time of bitter racial division in America.

William Edmondson, inspired by divine visions, was nearly 60 years old when he began to carve limestone in a backyard workshop at his Nashville home. He called his figures, which included biblical characters, whimsical animals and community heroes, "miracles I can do."  His strong, simple, but subtle forms beguiled the modernists' eye. Today, though the self-taught sculptor is long-forgotten by the general public, his "miracles" are highly prized by collectors and continues to inspire new generations of artists.

Chipping Away: The Life and Legacy of Sculptor William Edmondson" brings his remarkable story to life, combining original research, interviews and rare archival images, including the only known motion picture footage of the artist at work. Interviews include respected art historians David. C. Driskell and Jennifer Marshall, historian Bobby L. Lovett, and journalist John Seigenthaler, as well as some of the few living individuals who knew William Edmondson.

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