Oct 27

Great Artists: Norval Morrisseau

Norval Morrisseau (1931-2007), considered the grandfather of contemporary Indigenous Canadian art, was a self-taught, highly innovative artist whose visual storytelling – with its distinctive lines and bright colors – became known as the Woodland School. Through his expressive art, Morrisseau conveyed the values of his Anishinaabe culture including shamanism, the spiritual symbolism of animals, transformation, and the importance of family. 

Morrisseau, also known as Copper Thunderbird, 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 picotgraphic 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. 
["Man Changing into Thunderbird," Norval Morrisseau, 1977. Slideshow above, "Shaman with Bear Headdress," "The Storyteller: The Artist and His Grandfather," "Astral Thunderbird," "Shaman and Disciples,"  "The Fish," "Artist's Wife and Daughter," "Observations of the Astral World," and the artist at work.]

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[Norval Morrisseau, left, still from "The Paradox of Norval Morrisseau," and, right, "Jo-Go Way Moose Dream," Norval Morrisseau,1964]

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