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2024 Winter Fine Art, Antiques & Jewelry (Day 1)

Sat, Jan 27, 2024 09:00AM EST
Lot 127

William Edmondson Sculpture, Mother and Child

Estimate: $40,000 - $44,000

Bid Increments

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$0 $10
$100 $25
$500 $50
$1,000 $100
$3,000 $200
$5,000 $500
$10,000 $1,000
$20,000 $2,000
$50,000 $5,000
$100,000 $10,000

William Edmondson (American/Tennessee, 1874-1951), "Mother and Child," carved limestone figure of a woman carrying a young child with one arm and holding a book or pocketbook with the other. The subjects both have short, textured hair and rudimentary facial features, and the body of the child, clinging to the mother, is well defined. As with many of Edmondson's female figures, the back of the subject's skirt angles slightly away from the other sides, conveying a sense of movement. The figure has areas of painted surface in a tan/grey color. Height: 11 3/4" H x 4 3/4" W x 6 7/8" D.

Provenance: Private Nashville collection, by direct descent from Julia Otey Lee (1947-2012), who is believed to have acquired the sculpture from her parents, Ford Essex Otey and Elnora James Otey of Nashville. The Oteys were members of a noted African American family with a long history in Davidson and Williamson Counties. Elnora (1921-2008) was a poet and ceramicist; Ford (1920-2012) worked in the family's North Nashville grocery business, was a barber and a licensed mortician, and also operated what was said to be the largest black owned salvage store in the city, on Heiman Street. Julie Otey Lee was a genealogy researcher and board member of the Middle Tennessee Genealogist Society (research conducted by her and her brother helped trace the family's lineage back at least to the early 1800's). A notarized affidavit of provenance from the consignor accompanies this lot.

Artist biography: William Edmondson, the first African American artist to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, was born in Davidson County, Tennessee. The son of freed slaves, he worked most of his life as a railroad employee and janitor. A spiritual experience at the age of 57 prompted him to begin sculpting limestone using a railroad spike as a chisel, and he claimed divine inspiration for the works produced during his 17-year art career.

In the 1930s, his work caught the attention of Professor Sidney Hirsch, who worked at Peabody College in Nashville, located just a few blocks from where Edmondson lived. Professor Hirsch is credited with introducing Edmondson to well-connected arts patrons Alfred and Elizabeth Starr and Harper's Bazaar photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe. Wolfe's now-famous photographs of Edmondson and his yard full of limestone sculptures brought him to the attention of the New York art world and gained him the acquaintance of Alfred Barr, Jr., director of the Museum of Modern Art, resulting in the landmark 1937 exhibit.

Although Edmondson's earliest work was more utilitarian in nature, such as tombstones and birdbaths, as his style matured his subject matter grew to include Biblical figures, various animals, and female figures (frequently based on women he knew from his community). This sculpture relates to several known Mother and Child sculptures created by Edmondson. It is, however, unusual or possibly unique because of the addition of the pocketbook in the other hand, an element usually found on his women without children.





Overall good condition with general wear to surface including wear and scratches to paint layer. Abrasions to back of mother's head, left side, up to 3/4" x 1/2", plus minor abrasions to back of child, area behind mother's left arm, and to the lower edge of dress at rear. Additional note: an x-ray analysis confirms no repair or infill present under the paint.

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