Sister Gertrude Morgan God's Greatest Hits Rod McKuen and Me! Annual I am not at the Outsider Art Fair 2016 Post
God's Greatest Hits which featured a dozen or so splendid paintings by Sister Gertrude Morgan was quite popular 45 years ago when published. Some 300,000 copies were sold. Book sales like that are improbable now, I can assure you. It didn't hurt that the works illustrated were from the private collection of "middle of the road" poet Rod McKuen, or that the book was written by God. Well, whoever wrote the Bible, that is. 31 biblical quotes, the colorful "googly eyes" works by the Sister and wrapped up with a nice sleeve in a tiny format. As some of the little books were inscribed and/or even had an original work by the preacher, I've opened used copies of the book numerous times.
But what became of the McKuen collection? Read on...
I collected Sister Morgan's work heavily decades ago. At one time I had fifteen of them arranged around my New York City rent-controlled apartment. I even painted the walls and floor just like she did…it was like living in her little house / chapel. They were relatively affordable then, though I do remember spending three grand on a really big one. The ones I found most interesting were apparently among her first works. Crayon and shoe polish (white, of course) which were painted on cardboard and I presume used as Bible "flash cards" for the Lord. They were uncharacteristic, and less dense than the later work. Each depicted an obscure Bible story with a passage about each written on the reverse. They were designed to be read while aiming them towards an audience. Like all my works by the artist, they are now in a private collection. I don't think anyone will mind me sharing them here. I even owned a T-bone steak she had signed and used as her stylus to paint the eyes of her self-portraits. That now has an unknown owner too, and I hope it will not eventually be lost. The bone was once shown in a book on folk art, at least. The photos are a bit fuzzy and I don't even have pictures of most of them, but here you go. As you will see, at the time I was the perfect candidate for the good sister to cure...I was drinking and my hands shook! The ones I can't show are too blurred (or never photographed.)
As for the God's Greatest Hits paintings? By coincidence, a number of them are being sold on Ebay currently! Those shown below, which filled pages of the tiny book and warmed Rod McKuen's heart…and listed for sale. I presume the originals were purchased by Mr. Mckuen from New Orleans gallerist Larry Borenstein, who nurtured her talent. But how they ended up on America's garage sale is a mystery. I certainly can not afford them anymore, but maybe you can. There will certainly be a few at the Outsider Art show.
Some of the works I used to have are shown in photographs of the artist in the spectacular "Tools of her Ministry" book by William Fagaly. One hangs directly over her head while she studies the Bible. The book was edited by a much respected friend Tanya Heinrich and designed by equally much respected friend John Hubbard. It remains one of the most thorough and beautiful catalogs of a self-taught artist. It is the one to buy, though there are certainly plenty of God's Greatest Hits floating around. I was immensely proud to be included in the acknowledgements but didn't loan anything to the traveling exhibition. Mine were gone!
I have seen God's Greatest Hits shoved in among religious tracts in used bookstores. Again, one should always look for any inscriptions and drawings on the title page. The good sister painted a few of her record sleeves too, but be careful if you buy the CD. One version was "funked up" by some looser hipster overdubs.
Tools Of Her Ministry oddly does not appear on the American Folk Art Museum Book ordering page, but it is available HERE and you should join the Museum too. My apartment, on the edge of Times Square, has been split in half and is now two studios, each costing as much a month as I paid for an entire year. The works shown here are all in private collections. The bone / stylus I owned was shown in the long out of print book Contemporary American Folk Artists by Elinor Landor Horwitz. It is recommended and as books are largely dead weight now, available on used book sites for pennies and postage.
OTHER EDITIONS of the "I'm not at the Outsider Art Fair" essays are HERE.
Finally, I still have some stuff left! The new book (and $9.99 ebook) ECCENTRIC FOLK ART DRAWINGS OF THE 19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES from the Jim Linderman collection is available HERE.