The Columbus Museum Brings Important American Drawing “Home”

Staff Report

Thursday, May 5th, 2022

The Columbus Museum is pleased to announce the acquisition of an important American drawing, entitled 1324 North Avenue, Columbus, Georgia, by self-taught and visionary artist Sister Gertrude Morgan.

In 1900, Gertrude Williams was born to a family of farmers in Lafayette, Alabama, approximately 50 miles northwest of Columbus. Her family lived in Opelika and Girard (Phenix City), Alabama, before settling in Columbus around 1917. There Williams became involved with Rose Hill Memorial Baptist Church. She married Will Morgan in 1928 and the couple lived on North Avenue in Columbus. Their house is the subject of The Columbus Museum’s drawing.

“This painting presents exciting opportunities to interpret the life of Sister Gertrude Morgan, as well as other working-class African Americans in Columbus,” said Rebecca Bush, the Museum’s Curator of History and Exhibitions Manager. “Too often the stories of working people have been forgotten, in part because their homes are not preserved like those in wealthy neighborhoods. Morgan’s memorialization of her Columbus home offers the viewer not only a scene significant to her own life, but a scene representative of the lives of many laborers, nurses, laundresses, and domestic servants, including members of the artist’s own family. The presence of flowers may suggest Morgan’s memories of the Rose Hill neighborhood, birthplace of another renowned Columbus artist—Alma Thomas.”

In 1934 Gertrude Morgan experienced a call from God to evangelize; this life-changing event is captured in the Museum’s drawing. A second revelation in 1938 instructed her to go further out into the world. She left Columbus and eventually settled in New Orleans, where she spent the second half of her life. In 1956 she added the creation of childlike images of religious visions to her ongoing ministry of preaching and singing. Around 1960, Morgan’s drawings and performances caught the attention of art dealer Larry Borenstein, who became a champion of the artist. Fans of Morgan’s work came to include photographer Lee Friedlander, pop artist Andy Warhol, and poet Rod McKuen. Morgan was also profiled in the trend-setting magazine Interview in September 1973. That same year, Morgan felt compelled to devote her energy solely to preaching and abandoned her drawing practice. But even before the artist’s death in 1980, gallerists, curators, and collectors had established her legacy as one of the most important self-taught and visionary American artists of the 20th century.

“The acquisition of Sister Gertrude Morgan’s image of her home is part of a multi-year research project about the artist and the nearly four decades she spent in the Lower Chattahoochee River Valley,” stated Jonathan Frederick Walz, the Museum’s Director of Curatorial Affairs and Curator of American Art. “The text in and around the colorful drawing recounts the pivotal moment of Morgan’s life—when God calls her to street preaching. This work clearly documents that for Sister Gertrude Morgan—like other cultural giants such as author Carson McCullers, singer Ma Rainey, and artist-educator Alma Thomas—life in the Columbus region was foundational to the work she spent the rest of her life creating.”