Norval Morrisseau - Copper Thunderbird. Woodland Art. “Artist and Shaman between Two Worlds”. Norval Morrisseau…. "I go to the inner places. I go to the source. I even dare to say, I go to the house of invention where all the inventors of mankind have been.".
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"I go to the inner places. I go to the source. I even dare to say, I go to the house of invention where all the inventors of mankind have been."
Untitled (Shaman). C.1971
“Artist \'s Wife and Daughter”, c.1975
“Observations of the Astral World” (1989 - 1999 )
"My paintings are icons - that is to say, they are images which help focus on spiritual powers, generated by traditional beliefs and wisdom."
“Thunderbird with Inner Spirit”
Norval Morrisseau died on December 4th, 2007.
Norval was born in 1931 and grew up near Beardmore, Ontario.
He lived with his grandparents. His grandmother was Catholic and his grandfather was a sixth-generation Shaman.
At the age of 19, Norval became serious ill. The medicine woman who treated him gave him the Indian name, “Copper Thunderbird.” This is the name he signs on his paintings.
Norval “struggled with his inner conflicts about revealing Ojibwa culture to the white man, and he drank heavily.”
Norval had many opportunities to exhibit his work. He did commissioned work for the Expo ’67 in Montreal, and in 1969, Dr. Herbert Schwarz arranged a one man exhibition for Norval on the French Riviera. “Over 12, 000 people attended the exhibition including Picasso and Chagall,” said Schwarz. “At the time, Morrisseau was referred to as the “Picasso of the Woods.”
The artist became a believer in Eckankar, a religion that focuses on the “connection to God through Divine Spirit, which can be heard as sound and seen as light.”
In 1986, the Thunder Bay region appointed him Grand Shaman of the Ojibwa.
“I am a Shaman- artist. My paintings are also icons; that is to say, they are images which help focus on spiritual powers generated by traditional belief and wisdom.”
“…Morrisseau was the first person in Canada and the US to paint the images and legends of the Eastern Woodlands people. As an Ojibwa, Morrisseau is part of an ethnological group known as the Eastern Woodlands people. Geographically, this covers the Northeastern US and Canada. It includes the Iroquois of New York State as well as the Cree, Ojibwa and Odawa people. The taboo Norval had broken existed among all these peoples. There was no known record that anyone before him had broken it.”
“By breaking the taboo and creating a new visual vocabulary, Norval had inspired artists throughout North America. His symbolism became the trademark. Known as the Woodland School of Art, it is only the unique and widespread Native art movement that arose in the Northeast.”
Norval explains the purpose of his art, saying, “My art speaks and will continue to speak, transcending barriers of nationality, of language and other forces that may be divisive, fortifying the greatness of the spirit that has always been the foundation of the Ojibwa people.
(source: Norval Morrisseau, “Return to the House of Invention”, 2005)
Website Sources for Images and Information
National Gallery of Canada:
McMichael Canadian Art Collection:
Native Art in Canada, An Ojibwa Elder’s Art and Stories:
Norval Morrisseau: Biography
The Canadian Woodland Group of Seven
Norval Morriseau, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness,
Alex Janvier, Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray, Joe Sanchez
In the contemporary Canadian art world, Canadian native art wasn’t taken seriously until Norval Morrisseau first appeared on the scene in the 1960s. In 1969 the French Press called Morrisseau the “Picasso of the North”.
Morrisseau’s work showed that native artists and native art could stand shoulder to shoulder with other contemporary Canadian artists. However, native art was still on the fringe of the Canadian art world.
Then in 1973 the Winnipeg Art Gallery held a groundbreaking exhibition called Treaty Numbers 23, 287, 1171. This exhibition, in addition to Norval Morrisseau, featured art by native artists Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Alex Janvier, Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray and Joe Sanchez. This exhibition is reputed to be the birth of the Woodland Group of Seven, also known as the Professional National Indian Artists Inc.
The Woodland Group of Seven’s art features a predominant black form line, an undifferentiated background, pure colours, and imagery from native legends and healing.
In addition to moving native art into the mainstream of the Canadian art world, the Woodland Group of Seven has played an important role in influencing younger native artists. Just as the original Group of Seven paved the way for Canadian artists to paint Canadian scenes and images, the Woodland Group of Seven opened the doors for a new generation of native artists.
The Woodland School is now an established and recognized form of Canadian native art.
A triptych made up of "Thunder Dancer," "Metamorphosis" and "Thunderbird.“
~ Jackson Beardy
“Copper Thunderbird: Merman Ruler of the Water”, 1969.
This painting shows Norval’s use of earth tones.
“Stain Glass Effect”, 1989.
This painting is a vibrant display of bright colours and shows the
influence of stained glass windows as well as Eckankar.
“The artist shows communication on a spiritual plane with the Bear. The hunter always shows respect for the Bear. It is a sacred circle.”
Grouse Nesting (1995)
This is one of Cobiness’ last paintings.
Skunk Spirit (1977)
This painting was created using
only three colours.
Raven Portrait (date unknown)
Canadian Woodland Group of Seven Artists
Contemporary First Nations Artists
George Littlechild, Carl Beam, Michael Robinson,
Jane Ash Poitras, Ahmoo Angeconeb…
"My art speaks from the heart...
it is charged with energy and
colour; it is vibrant and magical,
thus enabling the soul to travel.
I envision. I rely on the intuitive,
the spiritual, the emotional."
Teach Them The Way, 2008
Sitting Bull and Whale, 1990
“Over his career, Beam has worked in a range of media, including large format drawings, watercolours, etchings, installations and ceramics. His post-modern paintings, prints and constructions often juxtaposed autobiographical, historical and commercial images to
speak to conflicts between Western and Native cultures.”
Their Society, long ago complete,They no longer use their dreams to sleep but shake apart the rational dreamof Whirlwinds, silenceand snakes that speak…
Men Without Nations
Rebirth of the Four Coyote Spirits
Anishnawbe Woman, Keeper of the Culture, 2005
Website Sources for Images and Information on Contemporary First Nations Artists
Jane Ash Poitras…