Norval Morrisseau

Great Artists

Astral Thunderbird, art by Norval Morrisseau

Norval Morrisseau

Morrisseau (1931-2007), also known as Copper Thunderbird, is considered the grandfather of contemporary Indigenous Canadian art. His original, highly innovative art – with its distinctive lines and bright colors – became known as the Woodland School. Through his expressive visual storytelling, Morrisseau shared the values of his Anishinaabe culture including shamanism, the spiritual symbolism of animals, transformation, and the importance of family. 
 [Art credit: Astral Thunderbird by Norval Morrisseau,]

Painter Norval Morrisseau, black and white, painting

Morrisseau was born on the Sand Point First Nations Reserve near Thunder Bay, Ontario. Following Anishinaabe tradition, he was raised by his maternal grandparents and was profoundly inspired by his elders' stories and the pictographic communication of his ancestors. As a young boy, he was forced to attend a Catholic residential school, where he was forbidden to acknowledge his culture or speak his traditional language. The abuse he experienced there led to deep emotional scars. During his life, he battled alcoholism and periods of serious illness. Through his art, he was able to tell his people's stories, and he became one of the most renowned artists in Canada. His work has been collected by numerous institutions including the National Gallery of Canada, where he had a major retrospective in 2006. Morrisseau was named a Member of the Order of Canada and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

Three paintings by Norval Morrisseau in blues, reds, purples
Credit: All art by Norval Morrisseau, left to right, Shaman with Bear Headdress, The Fish, and Shaman and Disciples,


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