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1 Painting in Collection

Sister Gertrude Morgan


(1900-1980) United States

Works in Public Collections

Smithsonian American art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA; New Orleans Museum of Art, LA; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA

Recent Exhibitions

The Tools of Her Ministry: The Art of Sister Gertrude Morgan, New Orleans Museum of Art and American Folk Art Museum, NY, NY, 2004The Dirty South: The Southern Impulse in Art, Material and Sonic Culture, Virginia Museum of Fine Art, 2021Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980, Corcoran Museum of Art, D.C.,1982. Traveled to San Francisco MoMA, CA; Saint Louis Art Museum, MO; Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Des Moines Art Center, IA; and Cleveland Museum of Art, OHLouisiana Folk Paintings, Museum of American Folk Art, NY, NY, 1973Native Art in Louisiana, Museum of Modern Art, NY, 1973


Smithsonian American art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA; New Orleans Museum of Art, LA; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA

Born 1900 LaFayette, Alabama
Died 1980 New Orleans, LA

Sister Gertrude Morgan was a street poet and preacher whose motivation to spread God’s word led her to become a visual artist and musician. Self-taught, Morgan’s artworks serve as expressions of her profound faith as well as narratives of selected biblical passages and personal visions.

Gertrude Williams she was the seventh child born to a rural farming family in Alabama. She left school before completing 3rd grade. In 1917 her family moved to Columbus, Georgia where Morgan worked as a nursemaid in a private home and became an active member of the Rose Hill Memorial Baptist Church. In 1928 she married Will Morgan. The marriage lasted 10 years. Morgan was called while sitting in her kitchen in 1934 to “Go ye into yonder’s world and sing with a loud voice for you are a chosen vessel to call men, women, girls and boys” Just before her 50th birthday in 1939 she left Columbus alone to preach the gospel, eventually settling in New Orleans where she would live for the remainder of her life.

After the separation from what Morgan later was to call her “earthly husband”, Morgan began serious missionary work and joined the Holiness and Sanctified Movement, an African American church known for its syncopated gospel music and expressive forms of worship. Morgan would set up her easel on the street in the French Quarter of New Orleans and preach the gospel, singing and using her paintings as tools to illustrate Biblical passage. Often, she would accompany herself on guitar and tambourine.

In the early 1940s, Morgan adopted the title “sister” and with money from street preaching, she and two other missionaries from the Holiness and Sanctified Movement, Mother Margaret Parker and Sister Cora Williams, purchased land and built and operated a center for orphans and runaways, a remarkable accomplishment for southern Black women at this moment in history. The center included a small chapel and often housed up to 17 children. They provided food and shelter for children until a hurricane destroyed the facility in 1965.

Morgan then moved to the Lower Ninth Ward and became a nurse companion to an older woman. In 1965 Morgan began wearing only white after a vision prophesized that she would become the bride of Christ. She turned the front room of their small house into a prayer room where she would give sermons. Painted completely white, she named it the "Everlasting Gospel Mission." Visitors to the tiny mission were brought into the prayer room where Morgan preached and sang.

Morgan started to paint because her artworks were a way to illustrate her street preaching. She did not look to other artists for inspiration or technique, instead relying on her faith and biblical texts to guide content. After a vision in 1966 her works shifted and Morgan began to make pictures of the world to come. I’m Going to Land on that Shore (c. 1960-70) is more than likely a result of that vision.

The work which is created with house paint on board is stylistically typical of Morgan’s approach. The vibrant color and diagonal energy reveal her fervent religious commitment. Bright reds and oranges were liberally used as was her depiction of herself and other of god’s servants in bright white clothing. She often included both black and white faces in her choirs or congregations. Sister Morgan signed her paintings with many names, among them Black Angel, Lamb Bride, Nurse to Doctor Jesus, Everlasting Gospel Revelation Preacher, Bride of Christ and Little Ethiopia Girl.

Morgan’s paintings sometimes included notes written in pencil that identified the scriptures that had been her inspiration. She also painted a number of self-portraits that showed her before and after her marriage to Christ and made fans that she gave to friends and handed out during sessions in the mission. The fans were made of oblong strips of cardboard, stitched together and painted on both sides. Like many self-taught artists, Morgan made her art out of whatever materials were at hand including poster paint, crayons, cardboard and window shades.

After 1970 much of Morgan’s work was focused on the battle between good and evil and scenes inspired by the Book of Revelation which explains the second coming of Christ. It is for these paintings of New Jerusalem that Sister Morgan is most well-known. The holy city of New Jerusalem "coming down from God out of heaven" was consistently depicted as an apartment building with a choir of interracial angels in the sky.

New Orleans art dealer Larry Borenstein discovered Sister Morgan’s artwork in the mid 60s and began presenting it at his gallery Associated Artists. Borenstein who had begun to invite jazz musicians to play at his gallery helped found Preservation Hall and facilitated recordings of Sister Gertrude singing. In 1971 they recorded Let’s Make a Record, an album with 14 cuts with Sister Morgan singing and preaching accompanied by her tambourine. By 1970, Morgan’s art had begun to attract national attention and she was included in group exhibitions in California, New York and Louisiana. Andy Warhol, Vincent Price and Lee Friedlander were among the many collectors of her work. Warhol was so intrigued by her commitment and passion that he featured her in the first issue of Interview magazine in 1973.

At the height of her national popularity, in 1974 another vision instructed Sister Morgan to stop painting and focus on praying, preaching and writing poetry. In 1982, two years after her death, more than 40 of her works were included in the pioneering exhibition, Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In 2004, 24 years after her death a major exhibition of Sister Morgan’s art was organized by her friend Bill Fagaly for the New Orleans Museum of Art and the American Folk Art Museum.

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