Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I Heard God Talking to Me: William Edmondson and His Stone Carvings

The illiterate child of freed slaves, William Edmondson (1874–1951) experienced religious visions from the age of 13 or 14. At 57 he began carving limestone; he became, in 1937, the first African-American to have a solo show at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Four of Spires' poems are taken verbatim from interviews with the artist, but elsewhere the poet mimics Edmondson's homespun language to remarkable effect, and creates narrative voices for Edmondson's sculpted characters, photos of which are shown facing the poems. Here are Edmondson's own words about stonecutting:
"I was out in the driveway with some old pieces of stone when I heard a voice telling me to pick up my tools and start to work on a tombstone. I looked up in the sky and right there in the noon daylight He hung a tombstone out for me to make...I knowed it was God telling me what to do. God was telling me to cut figures. First He told me to make tombstones. Then He told me to cut the figures. He gave me them two things..."

3 comments:

School Library Journal said...

... a delightful glimpse into the life and work of a relative unknown. This is a special book.

Kirkus Reviews said...

...A veritable treasure.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books said...

...Though the concept is sophisticated as well as imaginative, Spires’ eloquent verses are certainly accessible to young readers, and they’re effective blends of the concrete and the imaginative; while playfulness predominates in the poetry as art, there’s a sense of wonder and a vivid respect for the artist that underpins the humor.