Symposium: William Edmondson in Context

Marin  Sullivan's picture
Call for Papers
September 24, 2021 to September 25, 2021
Tennessee, United States
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, American History / Studies, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Black History / Studies, Cultural History / Studies

Symposium: William Edmondson in Context

September 24 and 25, 2021

Vanderbilt University and Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, Nashville, TN


On August 12, 2021, Cheekwood Estate & Gardens will open The Sculpture of William Edmondson: Tombstones, Garden Ornaments, and Stonework, the first solo large-scale museum presentation of the artist’s work in over twenty years. In conjunction with this exhibition, Cheekwood and the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at Vanderbilt University are pleased to announce a two-day scholarly symposium on the work and legacy of William Edmondson. On Friday, September 24, 2021 Jennifer Jane Marshall, Associate Professor of American Art at the University of Minnesota, will give the annual Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Lecture in Art History at Vanderbilt. On Saturday, September 25, 2021, Cheekwood will host the symposium and exhibition study day.


William Edmondson (1874-1951) was the most notable sculptor to emerge from Nashville during the 1930s and 40s, and today he remains one of the most important folk or self-taught American artists of the first half of the twentieth century. Edmondson has largely been confined to narratives that focus on his artistic discovery by white patrons in the 1930s, his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1937, his work’s formal resonance with so-called primitivism and direct carving techniques, and his place in the traditions of Black “outsider” art in the United States. This exhibition and corresponding symposium examine Edmondson’s work within these frameworks, but also aim to reconsider his sculpture on its own terms and as part of a comprehensive practice that included the creation of commercial objects rather than strictly fine art.



For this symposium, we invite proposals for 20-minute papers that seek to interrogate, critique, and expand the existing narratives around Edmondson and his stonework practice. We seek scholarly papers that explore any aspect of Edmondson’s work, on its own terms, within the socio-historical context of Black artists in the first half the twentieth century, the categories of Folk/ Outsider/ Self-Taught art, and the history of American art and African American art. In addition to new perspectives on the art of Edmondson, other possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • intersections between commercial and fine art by Black artists at mid-century
  • new perspectives on Black “outsider” art
  • Nashville as a center of Black visual art production 
  • art histories related to Fisk University
  • the South in 20th century African American art history
  • new insights into African American sculpture, particularly direct carving
  • exhibition history of African American art
  • religious and/or spiritual themes in twentieth century African American art


Please send a 250-word abstract and a short CV to by March 22, 2021. Some funds will be available for speakers who need travel support. The symposium is organized by Profs. Kevin D. Murphy and Rebecca VanDiver at Vanderbilt University, and Marin R. Sullivan, Curator-at-Large, and Nathalie Lavine, VP of Education and Outreach, at Cheekwood.

Contact Info: 

Marin R. Sullivan, PhD
Cheekwood Estate & Gardens

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