National Museum of Women in the Arts
Gertrude Morgan
April 07 1900 - July 08 1980
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Photograph of Sister Gertrude Morgan Singing and Playing the Tambourine, ca. 1973, by Sylvia de Swaan, courtesy of the photographer. (c) Sylvia de Swaan
Place of Birth:
Lafayette
Nationality:
American
Phonetic Spelling:
SIHS-terr GUHR-trood MOHR-gehn
Minority status:
Black/African-American
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting, Sculpture
Artistic Role(s):
Calligrapher, Mixed Media Artist , Painter, Sculptor, Self-taught Artist
Style:
Naïve Artist
Artist's Biography:
Born Gertrude Williams in 1900 in Lafayette, Alabama, Morgan grew up with strong religious convictions as a member of the Baptist Church. In the third grade, she left school to help her struggling family, and in 1928 married Will Morgan. At the age of thirty-seven, Morgan had an epiphany, believing that God had directly spoken to her and called her to go and preach. She began her ministry on the streets of Columbia, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama. In 1939, she moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. There, she founded an orphanage with a chapel and daycare center in the Gentilly district of the city.

At the age of fifty-six, without any artistic training, Morgan began painting. Although she never directly took credit for her work, attributing her paintings to the spiritual force that guided her hand, she was immensely prolific, creating hundreds of works on wood, styrofoam trays, cardboard toilet paper rolls, or any other available surface. She worked in a variety of media including watercolor, tempera, crayon, and pastel. Morgan's brightly colored paintings served as evangelical tools, often depicting biblical scenes as well as images of Heaven and Hell. Text was often an integral part in the didactic nature of her images, and she frequently included childlike scripts that explained the religious nature of her work.

Undeterred by the devastation of Hurricane Betsey that destroyed the orphanage and chapel in 1965, she continued her ministry in the streets of the city. E. Lorenz Borenstein, a local gallery owner, took an interest in Morgan’s self-taught career as an artist and street minister. Through the sale of her paintings, he helped support her mission and promote her artistic career. With the help of Mother Margaret Parker and Sister Cora Williams, Morgan established the Everlasting Gospel Mission in New Orleans. She continued painting and singing her gospel message until her death in 1980.

Remembered for her flamboyant character and vivid images, Morgan has been recognized by a number of museums including a 2004 retrospective at the American Folk Art Museum.

Other Occupation(s):
Musician, Poet, Singer, Preacher, Minister
Place(s) of Residence:
New Orleans
Where Trained/Schools:
none
Earliest exhibition:
Dimensions of Black, La Jolla Museum of Art, La Jolla, CA, USA (1970)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997
Artist retrospective(s):
The Tools of Her Ministry: The Art of Sister Gertude Morgan, American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY, USA (2004)
Related places
New Orleans (died at)
The Big Apple Inn
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