Almost three years have now passed since Ojibwa artist Norval Morrisseau—Copper Thunderbird—left this world. In his lifetime Morrisseau earned international acclaim for his innovative, vibrant, sometimes provocative art style. Based in traditional Ojibwa visual imagery, Morrisseau’s style has inspired many other artists, but remains in a class by itself. In the past five decades private collectors and public institutions alike have come to treasure his works of art. A gift from the artist in 1960 was the founding piece in the Royal Ontario Museum’s own collection of works by contemporary First Nations artists. The many honours bestowed on the artist during his career included membership in the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1973) and the Order of Canada (1978). A number of Morrisseau works in public collections are certified as being of significance to Canada’s national heritage.
As a young man just starting on what would be a famous career, Norval Morrisseau wrote of the need to “record the legends, art, songs and beliefs, not for ourselves alone but for all future Ojibway”. Claiming the protection of the Great Manitou he set about to pass on the traditional knowledge and values that he had learned from his grandfather, not only to future generations of Ojibwa people, but to the world at large. His writings and paintings reveal an Ojibwa universe peopled with manitous, or ‘demigods’ to use his term, sacred animals, powerful shamans, and everyday humans. And, open to the world outside of his own heritage, he also recorded the influence of the ‘other’ as seen in the paintings “Adam & Eve” and “Lily of the Mohawks”, in the present exhibition.
In 1986 Norval Morrisseau was appointed Grand Shaman of the Ojibwa at Thunder Bay, Ontario. It would seem to be a particularly apt honour for the man who gave his intellect and energy over to the task of reassembling and preserving the proud culture of the Ojibwa people.
Royal Ontario Museum
Twitter | kinsmanrobinson.com