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New Jerusalem
Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900–1980)

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Date: c. 1970

Materials: Acrylic and tempera on cardboard

Dimensions: 12 × 19"

Credit: Gift of Sanford Smith and Patricia Smith

Accession Number: 1986.21.1

Photo credit: John Parnell

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Description

I’m a missionary of Christ before I’m an artist. Give all the fame to some other artist. I work for the Lord.

Just be sure and give Jesus credit for what I do. He’s the one that deserves all the praise. He’s the one that made me do it.
—Sister Gertrude Morgan

At the age of thirty-eight, Sister Gertrude Morgan thought she heard a voice from God telling her to become a street evangelist. She left her family and husband to move to New Orleans, where she organized an orphanage with two other missionaries. The self became the medium for the divine message, and her paintings stood as visual aids for her new vocation. Morgan often included depictions of herself in her artworks, as in New Jerusalem, where she is seen at the lower left. There, she is preaching from the Bible, dressed in sanctified white in the tradition of African American Holiness groups. The main subject of the composition is the New Jerusalem as described in chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation, a seemingly endless source of inspiration for the artist. At the lower right, the dead are shown rising from their graves, an allusion to 1 Cor. 15:51–52: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

Valérie Rousseau, “New Jerusalem,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.

Gertrude Morgan's artwork is directly related to her vocation as a street preacher and gospel singer. A committed member of the Baptist church during her childhood in Lafayette, Alabama, she moved to New Orleans in 1939 following a personal visionary experience. Believing that she had been called upon to devote her life to missionary work, she developed a vigorous preaching style and a deep, impressive singing voice. She also played several musical instruments.

Morgan's ministry was not limited to street preaching. She founded a child-care center with two companions soon after arriving in New Orleans, and later, in the 1960s, she established the Everlasting Gospel Mission. She also painted. Using acrylics, tempera, crayon, and other media, and working on cardboard, paper, window shades, and a variety of utilitarian objects, she emphasized a redemptive message in her paintings. For this reason, the written word is integral to her colorful compositions, with texts more often than not drawn from the Book of Revelation and its apocalyptic imagery, or from other biblical sources, gospel songs, or her own prophetic visions. Morgan sold her paintings to help support the Everlasting Gospel Mission.

The artist often included depictions of herself in her artworks. Here she is seen at the lower left, preaching from the Bible and dressed in sanctified white in the tradition of African American holiness groups. The main subject of the composition is the New Jerusalem as described in chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation, a seemingly endless source of inspiration for the artist. At the lower right, the dead are shown rising from their graves, an allusion to 1 Cor. 15:51–52: "Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."

Gerard C. Wertkin, "New Jerusalem," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 385. 

Gertrude Morgan's artwork is directly related to her vocation as a street preacher and gospel singer. A committed member of the Baptist church during her childhood in Lafayette, Alabama, she moved to New Orleans in 1939 following a personal visionary experience. Believing that she had been called upon to devote her life to missionary work, she developed a vigorous preaching style and a deep, impressive singing voice. She also played several musical instruments.

Morgan's ministry was not limited to street preaching. She founded a child-care center with two companions soon after arriving in New Orleans, and later, in the 1960s, she established the Everlasting Gospel Mission. She also painted. Using acrylics, tempera, crayon, and other media, and working on cardboard, paper, window shades, and a variety of utilitarian objects, she emphasized a redemptive message in her paintings. For this reason, the written word is integral to her colorful compositions, with texts more often than not drawn from the Book of Revelation and its apocalyptic imagery, or from other biblical sources, gospel songs, or her own prophetic visions. Morgan sold her paintings to help support the Everlasting Gospel Mission.

The artist often included depictions of herself in her artworks. Here she is seen at the lower left, preaching from the Bible and dressed in sanctified white in the tradition of African American holiness groups. The main subject of the composition is the New Jerusalem as described in chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation, a seemingly endless source of inspiration for the artist. At the lower right, the dead are shown rising from their graves, an allusion to 1 Cor. 15:51–52: "Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."

Gerard C. Wertkin, "New Jerusalem," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 385.


New Jerusalem
Date: c. 1970
Artist:
Dimensions: 12 × 19"
Materials: Acrylic and tempera on cardboard
Credit Line: Gift of Sanford Smith and Patricia Smith
Place/Region: United States, New Orleans
Description: Picture: Religious picture with Scriptural references - on paper with ragged edges. Upper portion has white multi-level structures outlined in green set against pink/orange sky, amidst red and green trees outlined in yellow dots. White road, outlined in red, from LL leads to C and becomes horizontal highway - LC and LR of road are areas of trees and bushes. Inscriptions generally appear along road: L - "come and and go to that land where I am bound. Promise land. St. John 14" (?); LL - "blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. St. Matthew 5:5" C and R "Paradise a name apparently denoting Heaven. Luke 23:43 (?) Rev 2:7 or that division of Hades assigned to the Just and Righteous. 2Cor 12:4" R - "New Jerusalem. Revelation 21." LL: dark-skinned female figure in white (artist) with outstretched arms, holding a book, facing R, going up a green strip that parallels the road. "Sister Gertrude Morgan Missionary everlasting Gospel Teacher." Smaller figures and trees are along B - C and R in a defined area. LR quadrant "behold I shew you a mystery called abraham's bosom. We shall not all stop (?). ICor 15:51." Frame: Brown burlap liner. narrow plain wood stained frame. Backing has reprint of May 8, 1970, "Vieux Carre Courier article" about the artist.
Accession Number: 1986.21.1
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