Austin Peay State University Receives a Donation of Sculptures Created by Legendary Black Folk Artist William Edmondson

In 1937 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City exhibited the works of Nashville sculptor William Edmondson. It was the first time in the museum’s history that a black artist was featured in a solo exhibit.

Soon afterward, Edmondson contracted cancer and was unable to work. He died in 1951 in relative obscurity and was buried in an unmarked grave.

But in recent years Edmondson’s folk art sculptures have enjoyed a renaissance in the artistic community. Over the years, Edmondson sculpted hundreds of small statues out of limestone and made elaborate headstones with carvings of animals, biblical images, and people. These sculptures are now coveted collectors’ items, fetching six-figure prices at public auctions.

Recently, Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, received a donation of two Edmondson sculptures from Joe Trahern, the son of a former professor at the university. The professor had donated another Edmondson piece to the university a half-century ago.

The three Edmondson sculptures will now be on permanent display in the university’s Mable Larson Gallery on the first floor of Harned Hall on the APSU campus.