Art of William Edmondson, New Documentary

One of the largest collections of William Edmondson‘s art is at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens in Nashville, and last month filmmaker Mark Schlicher spoke there about the artist and the fundraising he’s doing to finish his documentary entitled “Chipping Away: The Life and Legacy of Sculptor William Edmondson” that he’s devoted work to over five years. (Trailer below)

William was born to Orange and Jane Brown Edmondson sometime in the 1870s — perhaps December 1874 — in Tennessee, and was born and died within a three-mile area. His parents were freed slaves who had been at the Compton Plantation (now Green Hills) in Davidson County, continuing to work there after emancipation as sharecroppers.

William moved into the city of Nashville when he got older, and suffered a leg injury from a railroad job. Unemployed, he started making tombstones for sale using old railroad spikes and hammers to make shapes.

Smithsonian Magazine August 1981 published a quote from him about the inspiration:

‘First He told me to make tombstones; then He told me to cut the figures. I do according to the wisdom of G-d. He gives me the mind and the hand, I suppose, and then I go ahead and carve these things.’ 


In 2011, I visited Mount Ararat cemetery in Nashville, though it’s known that very unfortunately all of Edmondson’s work is no longer extant there. Further, it’s no longer known where in the cemetery he is buried. Nashville dedicated a park in Edmondson’s honor a few years ago and commissioned Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley for sculptures.

In 1935, Sidney Hirsch, an art faculty member at George Peabody College for Teachers found Edmondson’s place and was intrigued, telling his friend Louise Dahl-Wolfe about it. She worked for Harper’s Bazaar and thought it worthy of a feature, but William Randolph Hearst did not want to feature it in the magazine. She showed pictures of the work to Alfred H. Barr Jr., director of MoMA, and William Edmondson became the first African American artist to have a solo show there, in 1937.

Besides angels and animals (one of his lions was sold by Christie’s in January 2017 at $511,500), he began to sculpt famous people like Eleanor Roosevelt. He even sculpted Sidney Hirsch at one point, and that piece is in the collection at Cheekwood. Note: though Cheekwood has many pieces of Edmondson’s art, they don’t keep it on permanent exhibit. Their current exhibit calendar is here.


Above, one of Edmondson’s eagles I photographed in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. The last time I visited the Edmondson exhibit at Cheekwood — which was a few years ago — they did not allow photography. 

As an aside, Sidney Hirsch himself was a renaissance man in his own right: he was a  model for Auguste Rodin (!) and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. He served in the Navy. He studied ancient languages. He was a member of Vanderbilt’s Fugitives group of poets and other creatives (Robert Penn Warren was one member), and he was a playwright with varying degrees of success.

Edmondson achieved a certain amount of celebrity after the MoMA show, but had little interest in it, and cared less about the positive or negative criticism of his work. During his lifetime, the art never commanded appropriate market prices.


His ‘Boxer’ c. 1936 set a new world record for his work and for Outsider art when it sold for $785k in 2016 at Christie’s.

“Chipping Away: The Life and Legacy of Sculptor William Edmondson” is slated for a Spring 2018 release, fundraising to complete it here:

Rag Bologna and Hoop Cheese

The Jefferson Country Store outside Demopolis, Alabama — Hoop Cheese, Souse, Rag Bologna

Inside, an old store with wooden floors and glass coke bottles, Moon Pies, boiled peanuts, chips (your choice of Golden Flake and Zapp’s), Little Debbies, cans of Manwich and salmon…there’s probably some 10W30 and windshield washing fluid in there somewhere — you name it. And they’ve got this grill area for making hot ham & cheese, fried bologna sandwich or Conecuh sausage dogs…

If you’re there after the grill closes, there’s always rag bologna (called that because of the cloth sleeve) and hoop cheese with the red wax in the fridge


If you pick up a copy of the latest Southbound (it’s published by Atlanta Magazine and comes with their subscriptions), they ran one of my pics of the Simmons-Wright Company country store in Kewanee, Mississippi

but the most interesting part isn’t the outside but the inside

Folk Cemeteries of South Alabama, Some Including Graveshelters

In the Jackson, Alabama area, we found this swept cemetery with a graveshelter at Pleasant Grove Baptist:

Here, curbing with gravel:

Other graves have mounding, and if you look closely, due to rain…

The surface gets these odd little rises where the pebbles/shell bits are:

The graveshelter here is for Pugh Perdue Rotch, who lived from 3/21/1919 to 7/11/1922

Newville, Alabama had this Baptist Church cemetery pretty much in the middle of town, and it was also a swept cemetery (grass is not allowed to grow; the sand is swept to keep anything from growing). The oldest known grave here is from 1891, and a historic marker notes that in 1947, burial spaces were sold for $.25/sqft.

The graveshelter at Ramah Primitive Baptist in Houston County, Alabama is no longer extant, but the cemetery has many folk elements in that many of the family plots have the gravel and curbing:

and these ‘head and shoulders’ wooden markers, 

This is where the graveshelter was at one time. It’s for (can’t quite be certain) Maggie or Margie Whitehead, daughter of JNO. & Nancy Whitehead, born Aug 5, 1889, died Nov 4, 1890 ‘gone but not forgotten’ — and features this line of shells to make a cross:

Mosley Cemetery in Choctaw County, Alabama has this tabernacle just outside the gates:

Inside the cemetery, a graveshelter for Jasper C. Carlisle, who served in the CSA, Company F, 54th Alabama Infantry and lived 3/9/1842 – 8/27/1916

This Year’s (so far) Best Exhibit: Christenberry

Last year was an *amazing* year for exhibits, and my top two were Hunt Slonem Antebellum Pop! at the LSU Museum of Art and Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors at the Frist. This year, I’m thinking the Mobile Museum of Art’s Christenberry: In Alabama might be tops:

The signs, the sculptures, the woodwork, the ephemera, the furniture, the paintings, the photography…just this incredible all-encompassing (or as all-encompassing as one can wish for) look at Christenberry’s world…

“The Palmist Building is in my consciousness, has been most of my life as far as I can remember. It was on the way in the forks of the road, literally between grandparents’ houses — grandparents Smith and Christenberry — so we’d have to pass it. Especially when we lived in Tuscaloosa, we’d make that trek almost, if not every, weekend to visit one or both of these families. It was a general store run by my great-uncle, Sydney Duncan, my father’s mother’s brother — she was a Duncan… Then my next recollection was it becoming the Palmist Building.” — Bill Christenberry, cited in catalogue ‘William Christenberry ART & Family’ at the Ogden, 2000

Tornado Table, 2016

Providence Church, 1976

Southern Tree, November 20, 2004 — German ink on laid paper

Alabama Box, 1980

Entrance to B.F. Perkins’ place near Bankston, Alabama 1988

The Only Sure Thing

If we live a good life, we get to say that we met a certain number of people who were blissfully “one of a kind” — in one day, one day!, sweet Wade Wharton introduced me to his friends Tat Bailey, Bill Wilson, and John Farrer who all fully met that description.

The ridiculous part of this is that each of those men — each a close friend of Wade, was in his own right an incredible artist, and had an unmistakable, strong personality, undeniably a “one of a kind”. John was a sculptor with big public commissions. Bill was a poet, a pique assiette artist. Wade, well, Wade had an art environment and made all kinds of sculptures (when he wasn’t woodworking or making silly things from gourds). And Tat. Where to even start (with the covered bridge he built, his stonework, or what?).

I was thinking of Tat today and found this on Vimeo:

“he got more friends than anybody in this country. And he’s done more to help more people than anybody, any one person or any dozen people that I know of.”

The Only Sure Thing from Western Kentucky Photojournalism on Vimeo.

Here, just three the images I took from some of the visits I made to Tat’s home. What an incredible, incredible human being.

PCB SB, Bay Stay, And Firefly

When I was in college, Panama City Beach was *the* place to go. We didn’t act crazy, but we were poor college students and would stick six or seven or eight of us girls in a hotel room on weekends so we could afford to just go and soak up the sun and splash around and act silly and neverrrr tell boys the truth about what hotel we were staying at, because weirdos. Remember when MTV would go to PCB and Daytona and the islands to do Spring Break shows in the 90s and it was all Hawaiian Tropic and Body Glove and crunch socks with white Reeboks and Colin Quinn completely out of his mind (and off-script)? Yeah. What I remember is that no one could afford PCB on SB because someone at least 24 had to sign for the room with a credit card and the rooms were — I don’t know — 5x what they were the rest of the summer, and none of our parents were going to do that. So my SB were always less beach and more catching rays via plastic-lounger-in-the-backyard so it at least *looked* like my vacay game was strong.

Aaaaahhhh college.

Now that we have kids, we’re thinking about where we can go that it’s all family and fun. Usually we like to stay right on the beach, but I noticed that the Sheraton Bay Point Resort was crazy inexpensive (and had just had a $30M renovation as it was rebranded to a SPG property) so we decided to give it a go. It also has a spa, a Nicklaus Design golf course (golfboards?), and tennis courts.

The hotel is right on St. Andrew’s Bay, so while we weren’t watching the Gulf’s waves roll in, we flipflopped over a long boardwalk past the hotel’s waterfront bar/grill and further to another little private island where we played for a long time in shallow water that went out for a long distance. We also saw more hermit crabs than ever. It was super fun (sorry I didn’t take my phone out there for pics!). And there were a couple of pools closer to the hotel that we really enjoyed as well. Just a great experience.

Our room:

This is the view from one of the bridges driving out. Fab:


For supper, we tried Firefly, which is in a rather boring-looking shopping center. Don’t let that keep you from making a reservation. We waited here for a couple of minutes while our OpenTable res opened up:

and then were seated in the main dining room which has this large faux light-bedecked tree in the middle, which was actually more charming than it looks here:

Every single thing was delicious. The boys were happy with their kids menu, and we all shared bites of this stuffed filet, and the fish below too:

Just delicious, delicious, delicious. We will come here again next time as well.

They’re like, “mom, can we look all whatever next to this tree and you take our picture?” — yes, lovebugs!