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Sister Gertrude Morgan

American, 20th century.
Born 1900, Lafayette, Alabama; died 1980, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Sister Gertrude Morgan was a preacher, artist and musician who lived and worked in New Orleans, a city she referred to as the “headquarters of sin.” Morgan moved to New Orleans in 1939 and quickly established an orphanage with two missionaries, Mother Margaret Parker and Sister Cora Williams, who were both members of the Holiness and Sanctified Movement, an African American denomination known for its syncopated gospel music and expressive forms of worship.

In the mid-1950s, Morgan began painting scenes that were “guided by God” and served as visual aids to accompany her preaching and singing. Morgan painted on doors, Styrofoam food trays, detergent boxes, paper, window shades, and toilet paper rolls using the simplest of materials: tempera or acrylic paint, pencil, pens and crayons. Morgan’s brightly colored paintings generally depict scenes from the Bible and are accompanied by the artist’s own hand-written explanations. Her best known works show visions of the New Jerusalem, scenes from the Book of Revelation, and Jesus Christ piloting an airplane.

In 1957, Morgan proclaimed herself to be the “Bride of Christ,” thereafter dressing exclusively in a white habit that often appears in her paintings. That same year, Morgan moved out of the orphanage and into a house in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, also painted white, where she established the Everlasting Gospel Mission. From her home, Morgan hosted music-driven worship services and prayer meetings for two decades. She also used the small house as a studio space.

In 1974, Morgan announced that the Lord had commanded that she stop painting so that she could focus on her preaching, and she obeyed, creating only a handful of works from that time until her death in 1980.

- Phillip March Jones

Selected Exhibitions

2018, Outliers and American Vanguard Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

2013, Great and Mighty Things: Outsider Art from the Sheldon and Jill Bonovitz Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art

2013, Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery, Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, Baltimore

2010, The Museum of Everything, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin

2004, Tools of Her Ministry: The Art of Sister Gertrude Morgan, American Folk Art Museum, New York; traveling to: New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans

1989, Black History, Black Vision: The Visionary Image in Texas, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas, Austin

1982, Black Folk Art in America, 1930 – 1980, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Selected Collections

American Folk Art Museum, New York
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Museum of Everything, London
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans
Odgen Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

Selected Bibliography

Russell, Charles, Groundwaters: A Century of Art by Outsider and Self-Taught Artists, Prestel, New York, 2011.

The Museum of Everything
, exhibition catalogue, Electa & Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin/Milan, 2010.

Fagaly, William A., Tools of Her Ministry: The Art of Sister Gertrude Morgan, exhibition catalogue, Rizzoli, New York, 2004.

Kogan, Lee. “Gertrude Morgan,” Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South, Vol. 1, ed. William and Paul Arnett, Tinwood Books, New York, 2000.

Hartigan, Linda Roscoe, Made With Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C., 1990.

Livingston, Jane and John Beardsley, Black Folk Art in America, 1930 – 1980, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 1982.

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