American Folk Art Museum announces donation of KAWS from Martha and Mary by William Edmondson

William Edmondson (1874-1951), Martha and Mary, Nashville, Tennessee, between 1931-1937, limestone, 15 x 24 x 10 in, American Folk Art Museum, New York, pledged gift of KAWS, P1.2020.1. Photo by Bill Jacobson Studio.

(New York, New York) —The American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) has announced the pledged gift of a sculpture by American artist William Edmondson (1874, Davidson County, Tennessee — 1951, Nashville, Tennessee). The sculpture was donated to the museum in honor of AFAM’s 60th anniversary by Brian Donnelly (aka KAWS), artist, collector and member of the museum’s board of directors.

Work is probably the longest missing Marthe and Marie sculpture, which was last seen publicly in the exhibition Three centuries of art in the United States (“Three Centuries of American Art” or “American Art 1609-1938), organized by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at the invitation of the French government for the Musée du Jeu de Paume from May to July 1938. 84 years later , the sculpture will be exhibited again in the AFAM exhibition Multitudes, which will open on January 21, 2022.

“Since the early 1960s, the American Folk Art Museum has championed, studied and presented the work of William Edmondson. In fact, the Museum’s first monographic exhibition was of Edmondson’s sculpture in March 1965, ”said Jason T. Busch, Director and CEO of AFAM. “We are grateful to KAWS for this generous donation, which is yet another example of its inspiring support to the Museum.”

The original owner of the work, Mrs. Cornelius N. Bliss, Jr. (originally Zaidee C. Cobb) of New York, purchased it as part of the making of the exhibition Sculpture by William Edmondson in 1937 at MoMA. Her husband, Cornelius N. Bliss, Jr., an American dealer, politician and art collector, was the brother of Lillie P. Bliss, founder of MoMA. Their son, Anthony Addison Bliss, owned the work until his death in 1991. The sculpture came to AFAM and Mr. Donnelly from Anthony Addison Bliss’ widow, Sally Bliss.

For many years, Marthe and Marie was installed outdoors on Sally Bliss’ property in St. Louis, Missouri. It was recently rediscovered by John Foster, educator, graphic designer and collector, who contacted Dr Valérie Rousseau, Chair of exhibition conservation and curator of brut art and self-taught art at AFAM. The room has been altered, but not damaged, by natural elements and has been preserved and cleaned by conservator Linda Nieuwenhuizen.

“As an admirer of William Edmonson’s work, I am happy that this sculpture has a place in the American Folk Art Museum, where a wider audience could also discover the importance of this incredible artist,” said KAWS.

Sally Bliss commented, “I have lived in New York City for over 50 years. At that time, I was very familiar with the American Folk Art Museum. I am excited and happy to know that this sculpture will be on display at the museum soon. My husband and I plan to travel to New York to see it when the exhibition opens in January.

Among Edmondson’s favorite themes are the two sisters, Martha and Mary. Harper’s Bazaar Photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe (US, 1895-1989) discovered Edmondson’s work circa 1936-1937 during a visit to Nashville and brought the artwork to the attention of MoMA. The version of Marthe and Marie acquired by AFAM appears on one of Dahl-Wolfe’s contact sheets, probably pictured in Edmondson’s backyard.

“The rediscovery of this excellent Edmondson is a fascinating story. It will be a moment of celebration to present Marthe and Marie in the next exhibition Multitudes, where it will be contextualized within Edmondson’s larger repertoire, ”said Dr. Rousseau. “This is a major addition to the Museum’s collection. We are deeply grateful for the extraordinary support from KAWS and grateful for the fruitful collaborations that have made this acquisition possible.

Related program

On December 9, 2021, Brian Donnelly joins Valérie Rousseau to explore the artist’s keen interest in the work of self-taught artists. More information is available on the Museum website.

About William Edmondson

William Edmondson was born to once-slave parents on the Compton Plantation near Nashville, Tennessee. Edmondson’s earliest commissions were for gravestones and garden sculptures. Its biblical figures, angels, animals, community leaders and heroes have each been informed by syndicated imagery in African-American cemeteries in Nashville.

Edmondson, who lost his hospital job at the start of the Great Depression, claimed to have had a heavenly vision in the early 1930s, citing a disembodied voice asking him to gather his tools and start working on a gravestone . As he poetically testified, “I looked up into the sky, and there in the midday light of day He hung a gravestone for me to make. God give me this thing. A devout member of the Early United Baptist Church, Edmondson quickly complied with this divine directive. Soon the yard behind his house began to fill with gravestones and limestone carvings. He regularly called his works “miracles.”

Edmondson’s work was the subject of the 1965 AFAM exhibition, William Edmondson Folk Sculptures, and the 2000 exhibition, The art of William Edmondson.

About the Museum Art gifts Campaign

During its anniversary, the Museum will add works to its collection as it seeks to present an inclusive, nuanced and meaningful history of folk and self-taught art across time and space. Ranging from remarkable individual objects to vast collections of works of art and archival documents, these pledged contributions, bequests and gifts will be on display in upcoming exhibitions or will be available online.

About the Museum of American Folk Art

The American Folk Art Museum engages people from all walks of life through its collections, exhibitions, publications, and programs as the premier forum that shapes understanding and appreciation of folk and self-taught art across time and space. . The Museum celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2021.


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Reggie S. Williams

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