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William Edmondson:
A Monumental Vision

June 25 – September 10, 2023

About the Exhibition

In the early 20th century, sculptor William Edmondson (c. 1874–1951) was recognized as one of the most important Black American artists of his time. Since then, in-depth attention to his artwork and practice has been sporadic, with few museums devoting shows to his sculpture. Bringing together more than 60 works by the artist, the Barnes exhibition William Edmondson: A Monumental Vision, on view in the Roberts Gallery, is the first major East Coast exhibition dedicated to the self-taught artist in decades.

Edmondson made carving his vocation around 1932, having previously worked as a hospital orderly in Nashville, Tennessee. Inspired by a divine calling, he developed a career making headstones for the city’s Black cemeteries and soon expanded his repertoire to include freestanding figurative sculptures depicting nurses, teachers, angels, and preachers.

Following a solo exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1937—the institution’s first show dedicated to a Black artist—he increasingly found buyers beyond his immediate community, attracting the attention of East Coast intellectuals and collectors. Though Edmondson found fame beyond Nashville, media coverage of the artist played into stereotypes about the Southern Black experience, with many journalists framing his sculptures as the work of a “modern primitive.” Such readings may have been encouraged by images of the artist at work by prominent white photographers including Louise Dahl-Wolfe.

Featuring carved angels, tombstones, and other important works from museums and private collections across the US, William Edmondson: A Monumental Vision sheds new light on Edmondson’s practice and artistry and explores the artist and his work within the context of African American social history.

William Edmondson: A Monumental Vision also examines the complex relationship between Black cultural production and the American museum. To elaborate on this theme, acclaimed visual and movement artist Brendan Fernandes has created a new work, Returning to Before, in response to Edmondson’s sculptures.

Exhibition Organization

William Edmondson: A Monumental Vision is organized by the Barnes and curated by James Claiborne, curator of public programs, and Nancy Ireson, Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions & Gund Family Chief Curator.


William Edmondson: A Monumental Vision

$50 $35

This richly illustrated volume reintroduces readers to American sculptor William Edmondson more than 80 years after his historic solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. In new essays that explore Edmondson’s life in the South and his reception on the East Coast in the 1930s, the authors examine the artist through lenses of African American experience and highlight the complex relationship between Black cultural production and the American museum. Hardcover; 160 Pages


Major support for William Edmondson: A Monumental Vision has been provided by:

Funding for the exhibition comes from Amy A. Fox and Daniel H. Wheeler, Jack and Barb Hafner, John J. Medveckis, Louise Reed, and other generous donors.

Ongoing support for exhibitions comes from the Christine and Michael Angelakis Exhibition Fund, the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Exhibition Fund, the Lois and Julian Brodsky Exhibition Fund, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Christine and George Henisee Exhibition Fund, Aileen and Brian Roberts, and the Tom and Margaret Lehr Whitford Exhibition Fund.

The exhibition publication is made possible with generous support from Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art.

In addition, funding for all exhibitions comes from contributors to the Barnes Foundation Exhibition Fund:

Joan Carter and John Aglialoro, Julia and David Fleischner, Leigh and John Middleton, Jeanette and Joe Neubauer

John Alchin and Hal Marryatt, Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz, Lois and Julian Brodsky, N. Judith Broudy, Laura and Bill Buck, Elaine W. Camarda and A. Morris Williams, Jr., Eugene and Michelle Dubay, Penelope P. Harris, Jones & Wajahat Family, Lisa D. Kabnick and John H. McFadden, Victor F. Keen and Jeanne Ruddy, Marguerite Lenfest, Maribeth and Steven Lerner, Leslie Miller and Richard Worley Foundation, Hilarie and Mitchell Morgan, The Park Family, Wendy and Mark Rayfield, Adele K. Schaeffer, Katie and Tony Schaeffer, Dr. and Mrs. Eugene E. Stark, Joan F. Thalheimer, Bruce and Robbi Toll, van Beuren Charitable Foundation, The Victory Foundation, Kirsten White, Randi Zemsky and Bob Lane, Anonymous.