Weston Photography | Focusing In - William Edmondson

Edmondson was born in Tennessee in the 1870’s to freed slaves. He received no formal education and was thus one of America’s first primitives. He took many odd jobs throughout his life; one where he assisted a stonemason where he learned how to sculpt.

In 1929 he had a vision where God told him to dedicate his life to sculpture. He started carving tombstones for the United Primitive Baptist Church, of which he was a member. He later switched to sculpting figures after receiving another message from God.

 Photograph by Edward Weston | Collection Center for Creative Photography © 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

Photograph by Edward Weston | Collection Center for Creative Photography © 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

First He told me to make tombstones; then He told me to cut the figures. I do according to the wisdom of God. He gives me the mind and the hand, I suppose, and then I go ahead and carve these things.
— Quoted in Smithsonian Magazine in August 1981

With no other means of obtaining stone, William started by collecting pieces from demolished houses and disused curbstones. Later on, as the news of his work spread, city workers would drop off stone at his house. He did all of his sculpting in his front yard with the use of sledgehammers and other improvised tools.

Edmondson was the first African American to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The show occurred in 1937 and established him as a significant part American Art History.


William Edmondson was one of many significant people that Edward photographed during his career. He photographed him on two separate occasions in 1941. By the photographs it looks as if one was done during the summer months and the other during the winter months. The first photograph (above) he is wearing a long-sleeve under his apron and the later image (below) he is bundled up.

Photograph by Edward Weston | Collection Center for Creative Photography © 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

Sources

Christies. 10 things to know about William Edmondson. 18 December 2017. https://www.christies.com/features/William-Edmondson-10-things-to-know-8027-1.aspx

Amy Conger. Edward Weston: Photographs, from the Collection of the Center for Creative Photography. ©1992.