Along Charlotte, not far from the Capitol, lies William Edmonson Park, adjacent to the John Henry Hale Apartments, an MDHA-run affordable housing complex that was completely rebuilt a few years ago. As part of that reconstruction, the park was redone as an art park honoring William Edmonson, a decision that in part came out of community discussions. Edmonson was a local sculptor who, in 1937, became the first African-American and the first Tennessean to have a solo show at the Modern Museum of Art in New York. The park contains three modern sculptures commissioned by Metro Arts (and an arrangement of limestone column fragments honoring Edmonson). This one, “Road to the Mountaintop” (2014) is by Thornton Dial. In many ways, this is quite appropriate. Like Edmonson, Dial was a self-taught African-American artist who devoted himself full-time to art in his 50s after losing employment. While Edmonson worked in readily available Nashville limestone, Dial, a former metalworker, used iron, steel and found objects to create his work. Road to the Mountaintop is made from steel, sheet metal, and automotive paint, and has a weathered look as a result. The main photos here are from October 2019, but the two at the bottom are from July 2016, and you can see some clear distinctions. Dial had this to say about his work (quoted in NashvilleArts Magazine):
“I make my art for people to learn from, but I only have made one piece to go outdoors before this one. I loved the idea that people would be driving down the street and looking at my art outdoors. More people can see it that way and maybe understand what it is that artists like me think and are trying to tell people. The piece is about Martin Luther King and Civil Rights in some ways, but it is also about the struggles that every person faces if they’re a woman or a man, a black person or a white person. We all got to struggle to get up. That’s our job, our duty.”
Here are photos from the park’s dedication, where you can also see some of the other work in the park, works which I will put on the blog in the coming weeks. Oh, and the Nashville Scene’s park reviewer (which is apparently a thing) is not a fan of the park. I think it’s nice, myself.
On a related note, there was a recent attempt by Metro to sell the park in Edghill where Edmonson’s home used to be. It’s stalled for now, and the neighbors want their own art park honoring Edmonson. If it happens, it would certainly be a fitting honor.
Located at 1600 Charlotte Avenue. The sculpture lies at the northeast end of the park, facing 16th Avenue North, near the intersection with Charlotte. The nearest street parking is one block north on Capitol Point.