Tennessee Botanical Garden and Museum of Art

Nashville, TN



William Edmondson Sculptures Gifted to Cheekwood


Cheekwood, Tennessee Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, recently announced a gift to the museum in memory of Gertrude G. and John S. Fletcher of seven sculptures by William Edmondson. The sculptures were donated by their children Bee Fletcher, Whit Fletcher and John Fletcher, Jr. This donation brings Cheekwood's Edmondson collection to a total of nineteen, unsurpassed by any other museum or private collection. According to standard policy, the museum does not release the value of individual objects; however, conservative estimates value the gift as one of the year's most significant donations of art to a southeastern museum.

According to John Wetenhall, Director of the Museum of Art, "This extraordinary donation, added to the wonderful collection of Edmondson sculpture we already have, establishes Cheekwood's as the finest Edmondson collection in the world. We are most grateful to the Fletcher family for their fabulous display of generosity."

William Edmondson (1874-1951), a native Nashvillian, was, in 1937, the first African-American artist to have a one-man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Edmondson was a stone carver who worked with a hand-made chisel on limestone block discarded from demolished buildings; inspired, he said, by religious visions, he did not start sculpting until he was about sixty years old. Today, Edmondson is widely considered one of the most important self-taught sculptors of the 20th century.

Cheekwood curator Rusty Freeman, an expert on Edmondson, says, "The Fletcher family's generosity is extraordinary, and, through their supreme gift, many Nashvillians and visitors to Cheekwood will have the opportunity to see and appreciate the full range and depth of Edmondson's talent. The gift expands our holdings to include three very important animals: Lion, Ram and Squirrel (shown lower right, upper right and lower left). These sculptures will provide invaluable resources and information to historians and students who will visit the museum."

The Fletcher family's collection of Edmondson sculptures was due in large part to their maternal great-grandmother, Gertrude Bosley Bowling Whitworth (l863-l 962), who employed Edmondson in the 1890s and early 1900s as a stone mason at her residence, Whitland Farms. The farm was located in what is today the Whitland and Bowling Avenue residential area. The farm was also the site of an 1806 duel in which Andrew Jackson mortally wounded Charles Dickinson, son-in-law of the owners at that time. According to the Fletchers, "Our parents obtained these pieces directly from Will Edmondson in the 1940s. They would be very pleased to know that these sculptures will now be enjoyed by Cheekwood's many visitors."

Cheekwood Museum of Art is currently organizing a major traveling exhibition of Edmondson's work. The retrospective will open at Cheekwood on January 28, 2000 and run through April 23. It will then travel to the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY, and the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton.

Read more about Cheekwood Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine.

For further biographical information on William Edmondson please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/26/10

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