For more than a decade the bright bold art of Norval Morriseau has portrayed mythical figures from the folklore of his people. In the beginning his work was stylized, semi-abstract, a compromise between Ojibwa law that demands sacred beliefs be kept secret, and his own passion to record the legends of his people. In recent years the mythical figures have taken more substantial form. His favourite theme of the thunderbird man appears more solidly human; his patterns of deep bold colour hold the eye like sunlight on stained glass. Light fanciful butterflies sometimes appear in his work, a contrast to solidly massed colour and a delight to his children.
Morriseau, born in 1931 at the Sand Point Reserve on Lake Nipigon in northern Ontario, states simply that he is a born artist with no formal training. His only consistent schooling was two winters at the Indian Residential School at Fort William. As a young boy he spent many hours with his grandfather who told him legends that he in turn had heard from his grandfather. The spirit figures filled the boy's imagination; he covered the cabin walls with his drawings.
He was first encouraged to continue his drawing and painting when he was employed at the Cochenour gold mine at Red Lake. Dr. Joseph Weinstein, the medical officer was himself an artist of some talent and a collector of primitive art. Morriseau's first show was held at the Pollock Gallery in Toronto in 1962. His work has since been seen in a sixteen-foot-high mural at Expo '67 and in exhibitions in Canada and the United States as well as at Saint Paul de Vence, France.
In 1960 Morriseau wrote the legends of his people down on paper for Selwyn Dewdney who edited his book Legends of my People, the Great Ojibway, published in 1965. A second book Windigo and other tales of the Ojibways was published in co-operation with Dr. Herbert T. Schwarz in 1969.
Morriseau says of the mythical figures: 'I drew and painted them as best I could for the Ojibwa and for all the children of our white brothers to see'.
The Beaver - MAGAZINE OF THE NORTH;
Issue of SUMMER 1971; Pages: 24 & 25;
Hudson's Bay Company
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