May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Nashville, Tennessee

c. 1940


15 1/2 x 6 1/2 x 6 3/4"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2013.1.54

Photo by Gavin Ashworth

Lady with Muff

William Edmondson, who lost his hospital job at the onset of the Great Depression, claimed to have experienced a heavenly vision in the early 1930s, citing a disembodied voice instructing him to gather his tools and begin to work on a tombstone. As he poetically testified: “I looked up in the sky and right there in the noon daylight, He hung a tombstone out for me to make.” A devout member of the United Primitive Baptist Church, Edmondson promptly complied with this divine directive, and soon the yard behind his house began to fill up with limestone tombstones and sculptures. He regularly referred to his works as “miracles.” Lady with Muff is one of several similar female forms he carved, each with a distinct personality. The figure is fashionably attired in a scoop-neck gown that goes from mid-length in the front to floor-length in the back, and she clasps what appears to be a muff. The contours of her bobbed hair echo the curve of her hemline. The interplay of the deeply incised hair and patterned gown with the smoothness of the face, arms, and legs demonstrates skillfully crafted contrasts. With the large head, the fullness of the hair, and the chunky hands in relation to the smallness of the body, facial features, and shoes, the artist displays his characteristic liberty with scale.

Valérie Rousseau, “Lady with Muff,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.