“My paintings are icons, that is to say, they are images which help focus on spiritual powers, generated by traditional belief and wisdom.”



Norval Morrisseau R.C.A., C.M., R.S.C.

b. March 14th, 1931, Port Arthur - now Thunder Bay, Ontario; d. December 4th, 2007, Toronto, Ontario
First Nations Affiliation: Ojibway


A member of The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts1 (R.C.A.) since 1970, Norval Morrisseau is the celebrated founder of the Woodland Indian School of Art (today called the Anishnaabe art), which revitalized Anishnaabe iconography, traditionally incised on rocks and Midewiwin birchbark scrolls. A self-taught painter, Norval Morrisseau created an innovative visual vocabulary which was initially criticized in the Native community for its disclosure of traditional spiritual knowledge, previously passed down orally. He acquired his knowledge from his grandfather, Moses ("Potan") Nanakonagos, who taught him about Midewiwin scrolls which provided him with a source of powerful images and meanings.

In 1962 Morrisseau was the first Aboriginal artist to have work shown in a contemporary art gallery (the Pollock Gallery in Toronto), where his bright, stylized images of Windigos, spirit guides, and animals were so well received that he sold all the paintings at the openning night. His colourful, figurative images delineated with heavy black/blue formlines, were characteristically signed with the Cree syllabic spelling of Copper Thunderbird, the name medicine woman gave him - to overcome the sickness in youth.

Norval Morrisseau completed many commissions during his career, including the mural for the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo '67.

He was presented with the Order of Canada (C.M.) in 1978, and in 1980 honourary doctorates from McGill and McMaster Universities. In 1989 he was invited, as the only Canadian painter, to exibit at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris to mark the bicentennial of the French Revolution. In 1995 he was awarded with the eagle feather (the highest honour awarded by the the Assembly of First Nations). In 1996 he was appointed Grand Shaman of the Ojibway and in 2005 he was elected to the ranks of The Royal Society of Canada2 (R.S.C.).

The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa had in 2006 a major retrospective of his works: "Norval Morrisseau - Shaman Artist" - the first solo exhibition featuring a First Nations artist in its 126-year history.

Morrisseau, who had been living in Nanaimo, British Columbia, died at General Hospital in Toronto on December 4th, 2007.

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 1 - The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts is one of Canada’s most enduring cultural institutions is comprised of members in over twenty visual arts disciplines from across Canada.

 2 - The Royal Society of Canada (The Canadian Academy of the Sciences and Humanities) is the senior national body of distinguished Canadian scientists and scholars. Its primary objective is to promote learning and research in the arts and sciences. The Society consists of approximately 1700 Fellows: men and women from across the country who are selected by their peers for outstanding contributions to the natural and social sciences and in the humanities.


S E L E C T E D   C O L L E C T I O N S:

Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, Québec

The Montréal Museum of Fine Art, Montréal, Québec

Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Museum, Charlottetown, PEI

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Ottawa, Ontario

Canada Council Art Bank, Ottawa, Ontario

McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario

The Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario

City of Toronto Collection, Toronto, Ontario

Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton, Ontario

Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario

Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta


S E L E C T E D   B I B L I O G R A P H Y:

Selwyn Dewdney and Kenneth Kidd. Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 1963.

Norval Morrisseau, Edited by Selwyn Dewdney. Legends of My People: The Great Ojibway. Toronto, Ontario: Ryerson Press, 1965.

Herbert T. Schwartz. Windigo and Other Tales of the Ojibway. Illustrated by Norval Morrisseau. Toronto, Ontario: McCelland and Stewart, 1969.

Sinclair, Lister, Jack Pollock, and Norval Morrisseau. The Art of Norval Morrisseau. Toronto, Ontario: Methuen, 1979.

Tom Hill and Elizabeth McLuhan. Norval Morrisseau and the Emergence of the Image Makers. Toronto: Methuen, 1984.

Southcott, Mary E. The Sound of the Drum: The Sacred Art of the Anishnabe. Erin, Ontario: Boston Mills Press, 1984.

Norval Morrisseau and Donald C. Robinson. Norval Morrisseau: Travels to the House of Invention. Toronto, Ontario: Key Porter Books, 1997.

Norval Morrisseau and Donald C. Robinson. Norval Morrisseau: Return to the House of Invention. Toronto, Ontario: Key Porter Books, 2005.

Greg Hill. Norval Morrisseau - Shaman Artist (Exhibition catalogue). National Art Gallery - Ottawa, Ontario,  2006.



"The Paradox of Norval Morrisseau" and "The Colors of Pride"  (2 videocassettes) - The National Film Board of Canada.



"...Norval, with his incredible ability with the formal problems of art (colour-design-space) and his commitment to the world of his people, the great Ojibway, give one the sense of power that only genius provides... It is sufficient to say that in the history of Canadian Painting, few have, and will remain giants. Norval shall." 



                                                             Jack Pollock



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