During depths of the Great Depression, William Edmondson had a conversation with God. And God delivered a message: “Learn to carve sculptures in limestone.” Within five years, the unschooled, 57-year-old “Negro” janitor from Nashville, Tennessee taught himself the skills, and worked out his aesthetic vision, to become a master sculptor.
Between around 1932 and 1937, Edmondson created hundreds of garden figures and tombstone ornaments for his friends and neighbors and the Black community.
Against long odds, he also soon attracted influential white fans, and in 1937 became the first African American to be awarded a solo show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
William Edmondson, inspired by what he described as spiritual visions, called his carved limestone figures “miracles I can do.” He served as a unique voice and vessel of divine inspiration. “Can’t nobody do these, but me”, he stated matter-of-factly.
History has proven Edmondson right. Today, his small miracles, most measuring no more than two feet tall, are prized by collectors worldwide. His work — by turns sacred and secular, serious and whimsical — continues to inspire new generations of artists.
Today, his sculptures fetch as much as $750,000. Yet Edmondson’s story and his work remain unknown outside of a small group of scholars and elite collectors. This documentary will finally bring William’s life, work, and legacy the attention it deserves.
What inspired and drove Edmondson? How was he able to overcome the heavy burden of discrimination and segregation, and become recognized in the highest strata of the art world? Who were the friends who helped his rise? What caused his fall back into obscurity?
And finally, how to we measure the lasting value of Edmondson’s work, and how does his legacy live on in the work of other artists today?
“Chipping Away: The Life and Legacy of Sculptor William Edmondson”, a feature length documentary by award-winning documentarian Mark Schlicher, celebrates the life of this extraordinary, unsung artist.
“Chipping Away” will paint a vivid portrait of the artist, weaving together interviews with top historians and art experts, as well as never-before-seen first-person accounts from people who knew Edmondson. Also featured are rare historical photographs, and the only known film footage of the artist at work.
“Chipping Away” is the product of painstaking archival and primary source research, and will reveal fresh insights into William Edmondson’s life and work.