High Museum of Art
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High Museum of Art

“Nurse” by William Edmondson: September Collection Highlight

Edmondson, a self-taught, Nashville-born Black artist broke barriers with his visionary limestone carvings.

William Edmondson sits and smiles, looking wistfully up to the left, with one of his limestone sculpted angels behind him.
Louise Dahl-Wolf, William Edmondson, c. 1933–1936. Edmondson became the subject of Nashville-based photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe, who sent her photographs to friends at MoMA, leading to his 1937 exhibition.

In October of 1937, William Edmondson made history becoming the first African American artist to have a solo exhibition at MoMA, which featured a dozen limestone carvings he had begun making after a visionary experience in the early 1930s.

Though he initially honed his skills as a carver making tombstones for members of his community, after his vision, he sculpted other forms including angels, preachers, lawyers, and nurses — the latter likely a tribute to his former coworkers from his previous work as a hospital orderly.

Nurse demonstrates Edmondson’s elegant economy of form. He rendered the body’s basic shapes as geometric volumes, concentrating on gently textured details in the facial features and carefully coiffed hair. The figure’s hands, positioned gracefully in her lap, lend the sculpture a delicacy that belies its solidity.

Limestone carving of a seated nurse.
Limestone carving of a seated nurse.
Profile view of a limestone carving of a seated nurse.
William Edmondson (American, 1874–1951), Nurse, late 1930s, limestone.

Despite Edmondson’s remarkable debut in 1937, his next solo exhibition outside of Nashville was not until 1964, thirteen years after his death. Edmondson’s work is currently on display in Gatecrashers: The Rise of the Self-Taught Artist in America (on view through December 11) at the High Museum of Art. Should you find yourself in Nashville, Tennessee, see more of Edmondson’s work on view in The Sculpture of William Edmondson at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens (through October 31).

This work is one of over 18,000 in our rotating collection. They’re all here for you!

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