This was unexpected. Since the 1970s, Lesley 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 Dickinson — cut from steel, copper, paper and even horsehair. Like Dickinson, 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 French Quarter. Though the gulf between Dickinson and Morgan may seem 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 colorfully gaudy effusion. Yet 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 also were 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.
In 1957, Morgan 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, crosses and serpents express the sulfurous pit of Hades that awaits the sinner. By putting her in a more historic and literary context, Dill helps facilitate a more complete picture of Sister Gertrude's place in the pantheon of American culture. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Lesley Dill: Hell Hell Hell/ Heaven Heaven Heaven: Encountering Sister Gertrude Morgan & Revelation
Through Nov. 20
Arthur Roger @ 434, 434 Julia St. 522-1999; www.arthurrogergallery.com