KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A carved limestone sculpture by William Edmondson, titled Miss Lucy/An Uplifted Lady, soared to $324,000 at a Case Antiques Auction on Jan. 26.
It was the third highest price paid at auction for a sculpture by Edmondson, the son of freed slaves who in 1937 became the first African American to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. And it was the highest auction price to date for a female figure by Edmondson.
The presale estimate had been $70,000-$75,000, and the audience burst into applause when auctioneer Wendell Hansen dropped the gavel after a round of intense bidding. The bidding pool included 13 telephone bidders representing museums, major art dealers and collectors from across the country. The winner was an individual collector who desired to remain anonymous.
Absentee and Internet live bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.
Edmondson (1874-1951) was a Nashville native who worked as a hospital janitor and railroad employee. A spiritual experience at the age of 57 prompted him to begin sculpting limestone using a railroad spike, and he credited divine inspiration for the works produced during his 17-year art career. The 15½-inch-tall figure descended in the family of a Nashville woman who worked at Peabody College. Her colleague there, Sidney Hirsch, is credited with helping introduce Edmondson to the New York art scene and launching his international art reputation.
Although the subject’s last name has been lost to history, the family of the sculpture’s original owner said Edmondson told her that Miss Lucy was a good member of his church, United Primitive Baptist, who had been “uplifted to heaven.” Prior to appearing in the Case catalog, the sculpture had not been seen publicly since it was exhibited in 1964 as part of “Will Edmondson’s ‘Mirkels’” at the Tennessee Fine Arts Center at Cheekwood.