William Edmondson found his calling
In the depths of the Great Depression, around 1932, William Edmondson talked with God. And God delivered an instruction to the 57-year-old laborer: “Learn to carve sculptures in limestone.”
Within five years, the unschooled Black janitor from Nashville, Tennessee taught himself to be a master sculptor, producing hundreds of garden figures and tombstone ornaments at a feverish pace. The work was intended to honor the departed, and to beautify the homes and brighten spirits of the living.
Against the odds, Edmondson's work attracted influential white fans with art-world connections, and in 1937 he became the first African American to be given a solo show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
But Edmondson's fame was fleeting, and by the time of his death in 1951, he was all but forgotten.
Guided by what he described as divine visions, William Edmondson called his carved limestone figures “miracles I can do.” Today, his "miracles" are prized by collectors and continue to inspire new generations of artists with their subtle and sumptuous forms and textures, their skillful execution, and their subjects that range from reverent to whimsical.
Today, his sculptures fetch as much as $750,000. Yet, Edmondson remains largely unknown outside of a small group of scholars and collectors. This documentary will finally bring his story, and his work, the wide attention it deserves.
“Chipping Away: The Life and Legacy of Sculptor William Edmondson”, a feature length documentary by filmmaker Mark Schlicher, celebrates the life of this extraordinary unsung artist.
What inspired and drove William Edmondson? What life experiences shaped work? 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 thos friends who helped his rise? What caused his retreat into obscurity? What is the lasting value of his work, and how does his legacy live on in the work of other artists today?
“Chipping Away” will paint a vivid portrait of the artist, weaving together interviews with art historians and other 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 original research, and will reveal fresh insights into William Edmondson’s life, work, and legacy.