DescriptionSister Gertrude Morgan (American, 1900-1980)
The Angel John Saw....
Mixed media on paper
12-1/2 x 20 inches (31.8 x 50.8 cm) (sheet)
Signed lower left: Sister / Gertrude / Morgan.
Titled upper center: The Angel John Saw
Rod McKuen, gift from the above;
Private collection, acquired from the above.
Sister Gertrude Morgan's exuberant visionary paintings come straight out of a modern Book of Revelation: a mustachioed Jesus sits on the Throne of God flanked by giddy angel choruses, beastly lions and winged creatures stride across a pink desert and proclaim the Second Coming, John the Evangelist, or "Revelator," receives divine prophesies, and Christ in a tuxedo gets married in the Heavenly Jerusalem. She was born Gertrude Williams in 1900 in Lafayette, Alabama, married young, and devoted the second half of her life to following God's will. In 1937, God "told her" to share the gospel with the world, so she became an itinerant street preacher, eventually settling in New Orleans -- what she called "the headquarters of sin" -- where she co-founded an orphanage and ministered to the poor. In 1956, God spoke to her again, this time commanding her to paint, and paint she did, despite her lack of training - brightly hued, childlike religious fantasias rendered in crayon, pencil, pen, and acrylics on canvas, cardboard, wood, toilet paper rolls, lamp shades, funeral parlor fans, jelly glasses, and detergent boxes. Morgan's whimsical images, which she coupled with rambling Bible verses, were designed as both personal devotions and teaching tools.
Around the same time that Morgan began painting as a means of evangelizing, God proclaimed that she was to serve as the Bride of Christ. Shedding her black robes, she donned a nurse's white uniform with cap and set up shop in the whitewashed Everlasting Gospel Mission in the French Quarter. Her colorful paintings, signed "Your Boss's Wife" and "Nurse to Doctor Jesus," enlivened the otherwise white environment. Sister Gertrude famously worked the crowds outside of the Mission, playing her tambourine, singing in a husky voice, and shouting sermons through her painted megaphone. Her lively personality and art attracted the local gallery owner Larry Borenstein, who during the 1960s catapulted her to national acclaim by organizing exhibitions of her paintings, producing record albums of her singing-preaching, and raising money to help her maintain the Mission. The American Folk Art Museum in New York held a major retrospective of her work in 2004, almost twenty-five years after her death in 1980.
Heritage is pleased to be offering four outstanding works by Sister Gertrude, which highlight her vibrant aesthetic and favorite themes from the Book of Revelation. Three of them -- New Jerusalem Hotel, 12-Story New Jerusalem Rose Garden Court, and New Jerusalem Lamb and Wife -- depict the Heavenly Jerusalem, described by John the Evangelist as a city inhabited by the twelve tribes of Israel when Christ reigns in heaven. Sister Gertrude conceived of the New Jerusalem as a twelve-story, urban hotel or apartment building, complete with floors for each tribe, a celestial choir of multi-racial angels, and a rose garden cloister where a debonair Christ comes to marry her, dressed in a fine white dress or nurse's uniform. In their repetition of shapes, Sister Gertrude's compositions have a rhythmic quality evoking her love of music. This same repetition of overlapping figures appears in the fourth Heritage lot, The Angel John Saw, her celebratory interpretation of John's vision in Revelation 14:1: And I looked and lo a lamb [Christ] stood on the Mount Zion and with him one hundred forty and four thousand having his father's name written [on] their foreheads.
This lot is accompanied by the shipping packaging from Sister Gertrude Morgan to Rod McKuen Enterprises, dated 1973. Rod McKuen and Wade Alexander previously utilized Sister Gertrude Morgan's works to produce the book God's Greatest Hits: Thirty-One of His Best, 1970.
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