Thursday 22 April 2010

Bonnie Edwards Kagna MacFarlane on Norval Morrisseau

Bonnie Edwards Kagna MacFarlane and Leona Lattimer
Photo Courtesy of Lattimer Gallery, Vancouver, BC, CANADA


Before I first met Norval Morrisseau, several events took place, the significance of which I did not recognize.

My father, Paul Edwards, was a kind and generous man who taught me, by his own example, to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This Golden Rule was the philosophy of life by which he chose to live.

Dad owned and operated a small cutlery shop located on the edge of an area known as "Skid Row", in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia. As a merchant in one of the poorest urban communities in Canada, encounters with people needing some kind of assistance was almost a daily occurrence.

Each morning, before opening their stores, Dad and his retail friends met for coffee and conversation at the family run cafe adjacent to our store. The neigh­bor on the other side was a men's clothier, whose friendship led to the giving of unmarketable jackets and sweaters to Dad, who, never wanting to turn anyone away empty handed, would offer to those asking for help. Then Dad would host the recipient to a hot meal in the cafe next door. Through these actions he was known in the community for giving all he could. When he died, an article in the Vancouver Province newspaper stated, "We lost a good soul". Along with a business to run, I inherited the legacy of his role in this neighborhood dynamic.

Several years passed by. During this time operating the Hastings Street store, I developed an interest in local First Nation's art, adding carvings and drawings to the walls and display cases, casually mixed among the assortment of knives and scissors.

In 1987, what was then called an "Indian Arts and Crafts Show" was held at the Hotel Vancouver. Entering the exhibit, I was immediately drawn towards an array of spectacular images. Vibrant colors bounced over the canvases. In the midst of these bold strokes and splashes of paint was another image. Slumped in a chair behind a table, sat a man, quiet and alone.

This, I was told, was artist Norval Morrisseau: unknown to me, but interna­tionally recognized for his talent at Expo 1967, subject of a National Film Board documentary and awarded the prestigious Order of Canada in 1978. Already captivated by his work and now intrigued by his persona, I knew that I would not leave this exhibition without owning one of his beautiful canvases.

Selection of one from among so many choices was difficult. While writing a check I told him where I worked. To my surprise, Norval told me that he was familiar with the store and that he had known my father, who in his own words "had shown him a great kindness". He had been the recipient of my father's generosity! Touched, I assured him that now I could be found in that same shop, should he ever need anything again.

As I got to know Norval better, I learned that this is how it was with him; as if our meeting was expected or meant to be.

Throughout the year that followed this fateful encounter, Norval was a regular visitor at my shop. Sometimes he came alone. Often he was with his good friend Gabe Vadas. Usually he had art to sell. I wrote many more checks as the months passed by, always excited by his images, which began to fill and overfill my office walls.

And so began my passion for the work of Norval Morrisseau and the acquisition of the art represented here. Named for the man and the spirit in which this time began, these paintings are known as the Edwards Collection.

Bonnie Edwards Kagna MacFarlane

>>> Source: An INTRODUCTION for the book "My Year With Norval Morrisseau" (1987-1988) [ISBN: 978-0-9783627-0-6] by Bonnie Edwards Kagna MacFarlane (Used with permission) © London Galleries 2007

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