1931 – 2007
Norval Morrisseau is a true original and important First Nations artist. Norval found inspiration in the mysteries and surroundings of the land where he lived. Remote northern Ontario, Canada. In these places Norval would find the connection to the land and to his peoples.. .where he could feel the breath of his ancestors whispering to him in gentle breezes…beckoning him to find his gift..his calling. He was among the first native artists to paint the ancient myths and legends of the eastern woodlands, stories previously passed down by the oral tradition. He spent his youth in remote isolation in northern Ontario, near Thunder Bay, where his artistic style developed. As the soul originator of his “Woodland” style he became an inspiration to three subsequent generations of artists…within native circles and beyond.
Norval was brought up by his grandfather who introduced him to Ojibway shamanism and told him the stories and legends passed down amongst the Ojibway people. Norval began producing images to illustrate these stories. He would draw on the sandy beaches of Lake Nipigon with a stick of birch or poplar.. giving the images over to the waves that would carry the images away. Norval was told by some of those around him, that it was taboo to relate these stories. …a symptom of the time and place where he was raised ..Norval lived during the effects of a systemic canadian government policy that saw young native children deliberately removed from their home communities ..warehoused in Residential Schools, largely run and operated unregulated by church organizations, including my own denomination, The United Church of Canada. In this time and place, Residential Schools cast First Nations peoples`culture into a dark corner .. A corner where their traditions were shamed and degraded …A corner where ancient stories would be told in hushed tones … desperate to share the traditional ways of their peoples …weaving ancient DNA strands into the tapestries of native stories.
Norval Morrisseau developed his style, adding striking color to his paintings and eventually took them south to Toronto where they were meet with rave reviews. I had the incredible opportunity to spend 2 summers working at Ontario Place Corp. I was in my late teens, and somehow got selected as a northern youth ambassador for northern ontario .. I too was raised in a northern ontario community, and it was evident that Norval and I had much to share with each other .. It was through him that i first came to understand that Shingwak School was much more than a building i grew up near .. I passed through the fields that held Shingwak School almost every day… It had really never been discussed as i was socialized in Sault STe. Marie… growing up in a house on the St. Mary`s River almost directly across from this site of a residential school … By the time i was in high school… most of the Residential Schools were closing, and they were definitely not part of the common lectionary … teachings…or general knowledge. I was largely unaware of these places … As a community development worker in Thunder Bay in the 90`s .. i did come to understand the horror of these places .. the fall-out — the shattered lives … the cycle of lost people … The burden of the white man .. come down ..
During one of the summers I worked at Ontario Place, Toronto, Ontario (1983), Norval was a `painter-in-residence`at Ontario Place. He could be found in the Northern Ontario exhibit areas I would see him quite frequently working on paintings … sharing stories with anyone who stopped to chat. ..He was a gentle soul … quiet spoken .. humble .. generous of heart and spirit. His paintings always took my breath away .. the colour .. the mysteries found in the images … all from the stories he internalized from his ancient ancestors…, eloquently laid to canvas ..
. Norval Morrisseaus` work now hangs in most prestigious museums in Canada and around the world. He has received an honorary degree from the Royal Academy of Arts and is a member of The Order Of Canada, the highest civilian honor in Canada. In 1989 he was the only Canadian Painter to be invited to participate in the “Magicians Of The Earth” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, France. He has had numerous solo shows across Canada and the US.
His work invites us to find our inner child … our aptitude for wonder … creating a story for ourselves .. Norval`s use of colour is bold and bright … A person gazing upon his work can be left with an imprint on their heart, that will continue to linger in dreams.. inspiring us to see the beauty of the universe in all of tis`mystery. . His visions, caught in the mystical .. the dreamcatcher …Dancing somewhere between ancient ancestory and the here and now …