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Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980) was a self-taught artist, evangelist, musician, and poet who often used a multidisciplinary approach as a vehicle for the expression of her profound religious faith.
Morgan considered her artwork but a tool for preaching the word of God. She arrived in New Orleans – “the headquarters of sin,” as she called it – in 1939, where she became a familiar figure on the streets of the city’s French Quarter. Preaching the Gospel to passersby, she would often sing in a deep voice, accompanying herself on guitar and tambourine. Sister Morgan maintained that her talent came directly from Jesus: “He moves my hand. Do you think I would ever know how to do a picture like this by myself?” The resourceful artist also fashioned and decorated the cardboard megaphone she used when preaching, and hand-stitched the individually decorated fans she offered to visitors of the mission. Most of her paintings are religious in theme; many are literal interpretations of biblical passages from the Old and New Testaments. She frequently wrote messages or quoted scriptural passages in her pieces and her text forms an integral and vital part of the total composition.
Like many other self-taught artists, Morgan began to paint late in life, at the age of 56. She as not inspired by looking at other art or attempting to emulate it, although she was likely influenced by the illustrations in her Bible. What sets her apart from many in the field is her originality, mastery of color, and highly distinctive style that demonstrates sustained artistic growth over a period of more than 20 years.
Tools of Her Ministry: The Art of Sister Gertrude Morgan is the first monograph on this important African-American self-taught artist. It was written by distinguished art historian William A. Fagaly of the New Orleans Museum of Art, who knew Morgan during the last twelve years of her life. Through his stories, recorded here, Sister Gertrude Morgan lives again. This book was the companion to the national traveling exhibition of the same name, organized by the American Folk Art Museum.
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