May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

New Orleans, Louisiana

c. 1970

Acrylic and tempera on cardboard

12 x 19"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Sanford Smith and Patricia Smith, 1986.21.1

Photo by Gavin Ashworth

New Jerusalem

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.