William Edmondson (American/Tennessee, 1874-1951) "Lady with a Book," carved limestone sculpture depicting a standing woman with short curly hair wearing a dress with bustle, holding a book in her left hand, her right arm bent upward at her waist. 12" H x 3 1/2" W x 7" D. Provenance: the estate of Leah Levitt, Long Island, New York. While it is unknown exactly when or where Mrs. Levitt and her late husband, David Levitt, acquired this sculpture and the Edmondson "Critter' sculpture in the following lot (#153), both have been in their collection for decades. (The "Lady with a Book" can be seen in the background of several of the Levitt family's photographs taken in the late 1950s-early 1960s). It is possible Mr. Levitt became familiar with Edmondson, or at least with Edmondson's work, in the 1940s when in preparation for his work in the Armed Services, he (Levitt) attended French Language training at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. By that time, William Edmondson was well known in his hometown of Nashville and beyond, having become the first African American artist to receive a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1937. Edmondson was born in Davidson County, Tennessee, the son of freed slaves, and worked most of his life in Nashville 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 (and adjacent to the Vanderbilt campus). 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 female figures (frequently based on women he knew from his community), Biblical figures, and various animals. CONDITION: Overall very good condition. Slight circular loss to lower back of dress approx. 1/4", some small losses to center of back base approx. 3/4". Protective felt added to the base.
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