Sunday, October 10, 2010

Leslie Dill Channels Sister Gertrude Morgan

This was unexpected. Since the 1970s, Leslie Dill has been known for her gossamer sculptural works based on poetry and the body, especially the female form, which she often cobbled out of verses--many from Emily Dickenson--cut from steel, copper, paper or even horsehair. Like Dickenson, Dill is a daughter of New England, and both reflect epochal shifts in the perception of female identity. So it’s startling to see Dill now taking her cues from Sister Gertrude Morgan, our own Lower 9th Ward artist, poet and preacher known for fire and brimstone sermons on the streets of the mid-century French Quarter. If the gulf between Dickenson and Morgan initially seems irreconcilable, Dill found a way. Here we see the main themes of Morgan’s sermons including the Apocalypse, the Antichrist, the Whore of Babylon and the Beast rendered in a style more crisply gothic than Morgan’s own colorfully gaudy effusion. Yet the look of all this may seem oddly familiar if you’ve ever seen those old New England headstones with skulls and skeletons etched in granite. The first New Englanders were also fundamentalists, and shared the same apocalyptic message as Morgan, so her graphics and theirs have much in common. But probably only another woman could fathom how it felt to be a crusading black female preacher, poet and painter in the 1950s South.

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     In 1957 she heard a voice telling her that she was a “bride of Christ,” and that was when she took her ministry to the French Quarter. Dill’s sculpture of a wedding gown blazoned with Morgan’s name and the words “Jesus” and “power” and “glory” convey her positivism, but a black dress covered with variations of the word “Hell” amid eyes and serpents express "the sulfurous pit of Hades that awaits the sinner." By placing her in a broader, more historic context, Dill facilitates a more complete picture of Sister Gertrude’s place in the pantheon of American culture.  ~Bookhardt

Arthur Roger @ 434, 434 Julia St. 522-1999;

Listen to Sister Gertrude Morgan on NPR: More>>