Queer Places:
6023 Race St, Philadelphia, PA 19139
Sunset Gardens of Memory Millstadt, St. Clair County, Illinois, USA

LENWOOD MORRIS Self PortraitLenwood Howard Morris (September 8, 1924 - January 29, 1981) was a longtime instructor at Southern Illinois University's Performing Arts Center in East St. Louis.

Lenwood Howard Morris was born in Philadelphia. He studied ballet there and in 1943 joined the dance troupe of Katherine Dunham. He performed with Dunham until 1963. Morris held several teaching positions, including one in Los Angeles, before joining the staff at Southern Illinois University. At the East St. Louis center, Morris taught ballet, modern dance and advanced Dunham technique. Lucille Ellis remembered that it was in San Francisco that Lenwood Morris, who became Ballet Master, joined the Dunham Company, sent by Archie Savage, with whom he was working in Los Angeles. Madeline Preston joined the company for the tour to Australia and the Far East in 1956: "I didn't know left foot from right foot. I joined as an apprentice, Morris taught me... Lenwood was the sweetest and most generous person... he was like a brother." The reviews in Australia and New Zealand were generally positive. An Auckland reviewer wrote that Lenwood Morris "wanted to dance: hitch-hiked halfway across America, joined the company as a student at 11 dollars a week. Now, as star and ballet-master, he commands the respect of European critics. He has been ballet-master and leading dancer for 13 years, despite offers from virtually every major ballet company in the world."

Lenwood Morris became Mervyn Horton's first male lover. Morris was also an adolescent friend of Maurice Victor Russell. In the 1940s they lived together in Philadelphia. A student at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts with other African-American artists such as Laura Wheeler Waring and Julian Abele, Lenwood Morris is known by only a handful of works today - including a small gouache and watercolor, Woman with Parasol, 1908, in the Academy's permanent collection. Along with Richard Brown, Morris also built and decorated parts of the set of the 1916 Philadelphia production of W.E.B. Dubois' historical pageant, Star of Ethiopia. His best known painting, the 1915-18 portrait of Alain Locke, is in the collection of the Howard University Art Gallery. Morris later exhibited with the Harmon Foundation in the 1930s. Locke described him as one of the "Negro Modernists," who, because he died relatively early, was a "swallow before the proper spring" and a "painter of what for that time were unusually advanced styles of landscape and strong, high key portrait studies."

Lenwood Morris, Portrait of Alain Locke
Lenwood Morris, Portrait of Alain Locke

LENWOOD H. MORRIS Untitled (Male Nude Study).
Oil on masonite board, circa 1900. 406x508 mm; 16x20 inches. Inscribed "L. Morris, Philadelphia" in pencil on the frame back. Alexander McCune frame, Philadelphia, with the label on the backing paper. Provenance: Maurice Victor Russell, New York and Philadelphia; private collection, New York. This painting was part of Russell's estate, a collection that included artworks given to Russell by Alain Locke, the renowned Howard University professor and philosopher. Part of the same New York literary circle in the late 1940s, Locke became Russell's mentor and confidant.

In later years, Morris lost a leg; wielding his cane with a flourish, he suggested a benevolent version of Baron Samedi, a role he had played with devilish glee in company performances. Always smartly dressed, with panache, he was especially dapper in a bright yellow suit. He was informative, funny, and warm and handled serious matters with a light touch; he would openly joke with Dunham about his status as a "queen". She recalled that he had been a favorite of the German kaiser's son, Louis Ferdinand, Prince of Prussia, who presented him with a ring formerly belonging to the kaiser. Openly gay at a time when the lifestyle often led to ridicule, he responded to rudeness and bigotry with grace.

Morris died at 56 at Jewish Hospital, after a long illness. The service was at Mount Zion Baptist Church in East St. Louis, and burial was at Sunset Gardens of Memory Cemetery in Stookey Township.

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