A Celebration of African American Artists: Sister Gertrude Morgan
October 31 2020
(Photo Courtesy of Open Edition Books)
Sister Gertrude Morgan was an incredibly faithful, kind, and interesting woman who had a great love for God. Her story is a unique one, in which she inspired many through her art. She believed that her art was inspired by God, and therefore created the most unique pieces.
Her work was inspired by her beliefs in the Lord, and she wanted to paint in order to preach to people through her works. Besides this though, she also looked after orphans, and children who had working moms. With a soft, kind, and generous heart, there is much that we can learn from this remarkable African American woman.
Who was Sister Gertrude Morgan?
Gertrude Morgan was an artist, painter, poet, street preacher, and musician. Born as Gertrude Williams on April the 7th 1900, in Alabama, she was the last born of seven children and grew up in a poor household. She left school before the third grade, and at the age of 17, she worked as a servant and nursemaid, once her family moved to Georgia.
She then got married in 1928 to Will Morgan, there is no evidence of them getting a divorce, but what we do know is that she left on her own for New Orleans in 1938, where she stayed.
Sister Morgan’s religious calling
From early on Morgan had a deep love for God and her faith. In her teens, she became a member of the Baptist Church and began documenting this time in her life through her paintings. One of her works from this time was called The Rose Hill Memorial Baptist Chruch. These paintings express the change in leadership after Reverand Miller died in 1930.
(Image Courtesy of Ogden Museum of Southern Art: The Rose Hill Memorial Baptist Church. )Revelations from the Lord
In 1934 Morgan said that she received her calling from God. I quote: “My heavenly father called me in 1934 .… Go ye into yonder’s world and sing with a loud voice you… are a chosen vessel to call men women Girls and boys.”
In 1939 after moving to New Orleans she began to preach the word through singing, and as a street preacher. In the 1940s Sister Morgan was joined by two other preachers and built a small chapel which she operated. This chapel was used as a center for orphans, (and at one time she cared for up to 20 orphans,) needy children, and runaways. She had a great love and kindness to help children in need, and this can be seen throughout her life.
She would plant vegetables, farm with small livestock, and help those who needed food. She would have feasts for the orphans, sing songs, play piano, beat drums, play tambourines, and show people her art.
During this time, she and her two companions also preached at a prison and helped inmates grow closer to God.
In 1956 she began to wear only white because she foreshadowed that she would become a bride of Christ. Her prayer room was also all white and it was in 1966 that Morgan claimed God spoke to her and told her to draw pictures of the new world to come - The Jerusalem of God. Her artworks depict her visions, parts of her life, and her understanding of the Book Of Revelation.
She felt that her drawings were composed by God, and she always gave credit to the Lord for her works. She felt that she was a servant of Christ first, before an artist.
As mentioned above, Sister Morgan, along with two other Sisters purchased land and built a small chapel. They housed and looked after orphans for more than 12 years until the chapel was destroyed by a hurricane in 1965. Once the chapel was destroyed she became a nurse companion for an elderly lady, who owned a small house. This eventually became Morgan’s Everlasting Gospel Mission.
Sister Morgan’s Artworks
Morgan would use any materials that were available to her for her art. From blocks of wood, lampshades, pencils, wax crayons, photo frames, watercolors, and poster paint. She would also use calligraphy to convey important messages in her artworks, such as key scriptures from the Bible.
Her works were mainly 2 dimensional, and she used simple shapes to depict human figures. Initially, her works were used to mainly teach children in her orphanage, but eventually, she used her works of art to preach sermons about God and Christ. Because she was a self-taught artist, she was criticized as being naive and an outsider artist.
During the 1970s Sister Morgan began to paint and draw pictures that were solely devoted to the Book of Revelation and the Second Coming of Christ. Her “New Jerusalem” painting depicts her marriage to Christ.
Her works were exhibited in the Museum of America Folk art, where 75 of her paintings were put on display. Also in 1973, her works were exhibited at NOMA.
After 1973, Sister Morgan received another vision from God telling her to stop painting. She then focused on her preaching and poetry.
She passed away in her sleep on the 8th of July 1980. During her service, her artworks were displayed, and her song “Let’s make a record” played.
Her artworks are beautiful in the sense that they depict her firm faith in God, and future hope that she held onto dearly. Her colors were vivid, and her imagination took flight through her works. Sister Morgans’ kindness, love, and strong faith inspired many. What an incredible contribution to society.