Celebrated painter Elemore Morgan Jr. dies
Artist known for vivid landscapes
by Jan Risher
Legendary Acadiana painter Elemore Morgan Jr. died Sunday at 77. Photo by Tim Landry.
Elemore Morgan Jr., 77, was often called the dean of Louisiana landscape
artists. Whether in a classroom, the edge of a rice field or atop a skyscraper painting the New York skyline, Morgan was a gentle giant among artists.
After complications following an April 8 heart surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center, Morgan died Sunday in Baltimore.
“It’s a huge loss for all of us – personally and culturally. There weren’t many people that embodied the history, the spirit and the present like he did,” said David Houston, chief curator of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. “With his deep family history here and his love of the land, he studied and understood Louisiana history as only someone who lived with that continuity can understand. But at the same time, he was deeply interested in people’s welfare and the future and how things were going to be – as well as how they were. He was an artist, a historian, an anthropologist all rolled into one.”
Morgan was the only son of acclaimed Louisiana photographer Elemore Morgan Sr. He grew up on his grandparents’ farm in Baton Rouge where he spent much of his time outdoors. After graduating from LSU, serving in the military in Korea and earning a degree from the University of Oxford in England, he moved to Acadiana in 1959, eventually building his home and studio on his beloved South Louisiana prairies.
Elemore Morgan Jr.”s signature work, Embankment, is one of many of his works on display at the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of the Arthur Roger Gallery)
Morgan’s vivid landscapes were seldom confined inside typical squares and rectangles. He preferred arched masonite boards that look like a car’s rearview mirrors – he said he liked to think of them as parentheses that captured his sense of the curvature of the earth in the prairie.
Set up with a giant umbrella, a red tool kit, a blue canvas foldable seat, a rickety easel, various buckets and paints smeared on old metal lunchroom trays, Morgan created the paintings in the open air alongside gravel roads in Vermilion Parish as flocks of killdeer flew overhead.
“As an adult, I’m doing what I did as a child,” Morgan said in a December 2006 interview about spending so much time surrounded by nature.
Widely exhibited in Louisiana and around the world, Morgan served as an associate professor of art at UL from 1965 through 1998. He was represented for 20 years by the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans.
“He was one of the bigger-than-life artists – both in person and in the nature of his work,” Arthur Roger said. “He had a love for Louisiana landscape, and he was able to make that love universal.”
Legions of students were influenced by Morgan’s teaching and spirit.
Elemore Morgan Jr. captures the Ray Abshire band”s performance in watercolor during the 2006 Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge. Photo by Brad Kemp.
“His legacy will be one of nurturing and instilling the appreciation of the
creative spirit. He absolutely believed in what he did,” artist Bryan Lafaye said. “He and I have had a lot of conversations about a lot of things. As direct as he can be, there’s nothing like that gentle spirit he left wherever he went.”
Brian Guidry traveled to New York with Morgan in 2007. Guidry assisted Morgan working on his America series.
“He was so incredibly honest in his way of dealing with anyone. It didn’t matter who a person was. He was always curious about other people,” Guidry said, recalling walking through the streets beside an ever-stopping Morgan who wanted to learn more about each interesting or beautiful sight they passed.
In December 2006, Morgan compared his work as an artist to catching a butterfly.
“It’s my job to catch these moments of beauty that other people see but might not notice,” he said. “We’re not the only people seeing this stuff. The whole human race sees it.”