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Lessons From the William Edmondson Arts & Culture Festival - Nashville Scene

Author: Nashville Scene

Source: https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/pithinthewind/lessons-from-the-william-edmondson-arts-culture-festival/article_ce9fecd8-76a6-11ee-85d7-6be8933ab4cf.html

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Aside from maybe bomb defusing or hostage negotiations, there’s nothing more stressful than driving with my dad in the car.His constant commentary always starts out reasonable: “Watch that kid on the bike,” or, “Betsy, that car’s about to pull out.” But it quickly escalates to, “Hey, that car’s not going to stop at that stop sign” when the car is at a stop sign two blocks away from us and we are stopped at our own stop sign.But he’s bracing his arms and legs like impact is imminent.I’m not one to brag about my parking prowess, but I once parallel parked on the left side in one swipe at the old TSLA.(Motto: “Sorry, we don’t have cameras covering the street, so we can’t give you a copy to show your dad.”) So, like, I’m not out here just parking all higgledy-piggledy in the streets of Nashville. But as I was trying to parallel park in a spot on 14th Avenue South with plenty of room, my dad started shouting, “Watch out for that car over there!” (The car was parked and empty.) “Look at your brother!” (My brother was standing across the street making inscrutable hand motions which seemed to indicate he saw how mad I was and thought it was funny.) “Look at the sky!” “You’re not pulling up far enough.” “We’re all going to die!Someday, not right now, but think about it!”I opened the car door in the middle of the street and got out.I said to my brother, “I will give you a dollar if you park this car.” I did not, in fact, give him a dollar, because I was busy storming off into the William Edmondson Arts & Culture Festival — which was held on Saturday in the Edgehill Community Garden — only to be met by a teenager who I did not know.The teenager said to me, “You’re a minion.” I looked down at my outfit — bright yellow shirt, blue overalls — and goddamn it, teenagers of Nashville, you’re right.We got there right as Mayor Freddie O’Connell was leaving, which, thank God, because my dad has opinions on everything the mayor should be doing for the city, most of which involves the transit system, which my dad never uses. If he had caught Freddie up in conversation, they’d still be in the park at this moment.The festival was very charming.It had the feel of a neighborhood gathering — people wandered in and out, went back to their homes, came back with bottles of water.Kids ran around everywhere.Adults hugged and laughed. The Maplewood Drum Corps played, and they were great.It was also very old-school Nashville, in that DeFord Bailey’s family showed up to play music and Bobby Hebb’s family was there, and yet no one was making a big deal about it.The highlight of the event was that Austin Peay University has an Edmondson sculpture that had been on loan to ETSU and was traveling back to Clarksville, and they brought the statue to the festival!("Lady With Two Pocketbooks," which you can see photos of below.) The festival is held on the block where famed Black artist William Edmondson lived.The homesite is under a basketball court.The big oaks that framed his front walk are still right there where 14th nd Wade intersect. As far as anyone knows, this is the first time an Edmondson has been brought back to where it was carved and displayed.Until now, I had only ever seen Edmondsons in museums or in cemeteries.Neither are places where you see people interacting joyously with them.But here?At the festival?People were taking selfies with the statue. The guard was generously removing the plexiglass case so that people could get their pictures without the glare.The statue was one of Edmondson’s women, about a foot-and-a-half tall, very narrow, but long.So, when you look at it from straight on, it looks almost like a small pillar.But when you see it from the side, the statue’s hair and dress stretch way back.One woman who was looking at the statue had a huge pile of braids on the back of her head, and as she stood there, almost face to face with the statue, I realized that Edmondson was depicting a hairstyle very similar to this.Seeing the two women with updos face to face like that really drove home for me that Edmondson was sculpting his community. I recently heard a story of a guy who has an Edmondson he pulled out of a backyard of a house that was being demolished here in town and the statue has been painted silver and given marbles for eyes.I was also put in mind of the time I heard Edmondson’s niece (or maybe great-niece?) talking about how she remembered as a child running through Edmondson’s yard and playing hide and seek among the sculptures.I’m struggling with what I’m trying to get at here, but it’s like, when I think of sculpture, especially sculptures made out of our poor-quality rock and then left to weather, it feels like something wrong is happening.I mean, my God, you glued marbles on a piece by the first African American solo artist to have a show at the Museum of Modern Art?Are you some kind of vandal? But then I think about kids touching the sculptures as they run through the yard laughing, or the neighborhood folks at this festival taking pictures with the statue like it was just someone like the DeFords or the Hebbs — someone from around the way who had blown up, but was just a person from the neighborhood at the end of it.And I think that the impulse to interact with Edmondson’s sculptures, to play with and among them, to stare at them a while and then decide, “You know what?This should be silver,” is actually really fucking awesome.This isn’t ART where you stand over there and the sculpture sits over here and you scrutinize it from afar and, if you’re lucky, it imparts some aesthetic meaning to you from on high.This is art for living with and being a part of the everyday.Also, seeing the sculpture outside blew my mind. One thing that people have always noted is that it’s weird how he will pick some detail (often hair) to depict in great detail and then other stuff is just suggested.But seeing this outside made some of that make sense to me.Listen, I’m not an art critic or an art scholar.I’m only showing you what I see.Take it or leave it for what it’s worth to you.But check this out. Here’s the sculpture with its tiny triangle feet.And here’s me marking all the sharp angles I see with the shadows.What looks out of place in an evenly lit room — the little angle-shaped feet — makes sense as a recurring motif when you see how the outdoor light plays on the sculpture.Also, I’m certain I’ve seen this figure before in real life, but this was the first time I noticed that her head is slightly tilted, as if she’s seeing something that perplexes her.And this got me thinking about how it is that Edmondson is conveying that she’s in motion and that she’s moving forward.Look at her from the side. There's a lot here to suggest that Edmondson intends our eyes to make a vertical sweep of the piece.The hair has an indent in the center, and the thin arm goes straight up and down before bending at a too-low elbow.But then there’s all the indications of how you should consider the balance of the piece.There’s a dividing line at the neck, at the waist, and then the line of the handbook gives you another clear place to split the space.The top part (the hair) and the bottom of the piece are pretty equally bisected by the axis, but look how the middle space works — her bust juts out in the front high up in the quadrant, while the bow balances it by jutting out of the back. But there’s no denying that most of the stone in the two middle quadrants is toward the front of the statue.And the fact that her nose and her bust are high in their quadrants and that the line visually dividing each quadrant slopes down and the dress appears to be somewhat dragging behind her, it gives the impression that she’s moving forward.The perplexity and the forward motion together really move me.It’s as if Edmondson is teaching you how to look at this statue by showing you how to look at it: Be curious, move closer.Now I want to see more of his sculptures outside, just to see if the bright light and the shadows playing on them lets me see anything I hadn’t seen before.Anyway, it was a lovely day to hang out in Edgehill and to see neighbors greeting old neighbors who hadn’t been back in a while.William Edmondson's "Lady With Two Pocketbooks"William Edmondson's "Lady With Two Pocketbooks"William Edmondson's "Lady With Two Pocketbooks"William Edmondson's "Lady With Two Pocketbooks"

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