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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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Norval morrisseau copper thunderbird

Norval Morrisseau - Copper Thunderbird

Woodland Art

“Artist and Shaman between Two Worlds”

Norval morrisseau
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."

  • Born March 14th, 1931, Port Arthur - now Thunder Bay, ON

  • Raised by grandparents with six siblings in North Western Ontario

  • Leaves school after the fourth grade

  • Developed his art from 1959 while working in mining

  • Became a full time artist in the early 1960s

Woodland art

Norval Morrisseau…

  • Morrisseau learned stories, myths, spiritual

  • concepts from his grandfather who was a

  • shaking tent seer, a powerful and well

  • respected spiritual leader.

  • He was given the name Copper Thunderbird,

  • MiskwaabikAnimiiki.

  • While at sanatorium in Thunder Bay, Norval

  • Morrisseau at the age of 19 had a series of

  • dreams and visions that he said were calling

  • him to be a shaman-artist.

Untitled (Shaman). C.1971

Norval morrisseau1
Norval Morrisseau…

  • A doctor at the sanatorium in Port Arthur encouraged him to paint.

  • At this hospital he met and married Harriet Kakegamic with whom he had six children.

  • In his early years as an artist living

  • on a northern reserve, he traded his drawings and paintings for food and supplies.

  • After meeting an art dealer, Jack Pollock, in the summer of 1962, Morrisseau had an exhibition in

  • Toronto which was a huge success.

“Artist 's Wife and Daughter”, c.1975

Norval morrisseau2
Norval Morrisseau…

  • Morrisseau enlarged the scale

  • of his works and developed his pictographic style in 1963-66.

  • He represented inner realities with strong flowing lines

  • combined with rich colours that often indicated spiritual forces.

  • These images presented an

  • x-ray anatomy with spirit power lines radiating from the creatures

  • he portrayed.

Norval morrisseau3
Norval Morrisseau…

“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."

Woodland art

Norval Morrisseau…

  • Norval Morrisseau was the celebrated founder of the Woodland Indian School of Art (today called the Anishnaabe art), becoming very popular in the 1960s and onwards. Some of the first nations artists that he has inspired over the past years include Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray, Blake Debassige, Saul Williams, Roy Thomas and others.


Norval morrisseau4
Norval Morrisseau…

  • The legends of the Ojibwa, the Thunderbird, the Windigo and the secrets of the Midiwewin seen through the art of NorvalMorrisseau have found their place alongside the mainstream art and culture of the Canadian society.

  • He was often called the “Picasso of the North”.

  • His art is seen in national, provincial and private galleries throughout Canada and international collections abroad.

“Thunderbird with Inner Spirit”


Woodland art

…Norval Morrisseau

Self-Portrait, c.1975

Norval Morrisseau died on December 4th, 2007.

Interesting facts about norval morrisseau s life
Interesting facts about Norval Morrisseau’s life…

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.”

Why is norval morrisseau so important
Why is Norval Morrisseau so important?

“…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)

Woodland art

…Norval Morrisseau

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

Woodland art

Community Development, Norval Morrisseau

The Canadian Woodland Group of Seven

Norval Morriseau, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness,

Alex Janvier, Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray, Joe Sanchez

Woodland art

The Story of the Canadian Woodland Group of Seven

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.

Woodland art

… the story continued

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

Some of norval s artwork
Some of Norval’s Artwork…

“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.

Woodland art

Jackson Beardy…

  • Jackson Beardy was born July 24, 1944, Island Lake, Manitoba and he died December 8, 1984.

  • He joined the Woodlands Group of Seven in 1972.

  • His artwork was inspired by his deep knowledge of aboriginal traditions, including Cree myths and legends.

  • His artwork often expresses fundamental cosmological and spiritual concepts such as the balances in nature, regeneration and growth and the interdependence of all things.

  • Beardy’s distinctive style is characterized by precisely defined flat areas of warm colours and flowing ribbons of paint.

Life Cycles

“The artist shows communication on a spiritual plane with the Bear. The hunter always shows respect for the Bear. It is a sacred circle.”

Woodland art

Eddy Cobiness…

  • Eddy Cobiness was born in 1933 in Warroad, Minnesota. He died in 1996.

  • Cobiness moved to Canada and lived on Buffalo Point Reserve near Lake of the Woods in Northern Ontario.

  • Like many of the Woodland School artists, Cobiness was self taught.

  • His work is recognized for its stylized images of animals.

  • Cobiness claimed to be influenced by Picasso’s spare use of line and colour.

  • In his later works, Cobiness often signed his paintings with his treaty number, ’47’.

Grouse Nesting (1995)

This is one of Cobiness’ last paintings.

Woodland art

Alex Janvier…

  • Alex Janvier was born in Alberta in 1935.

  • Like many of the Woodland School of Art members, Janvier was uprooted from his family and sent to a residential school.

  • At the residential school he was exposed to artistic tools to create his first paintings. He later received formal training in Calgary, AB.

Woodland art

Daphne Odjig…

  • Daphne Odjig was born in 1919 in Wikwemikong, Manitoulin Island.

  • She was a member of the Order of Canada and she has received many national and international awards recognizing her as an influential Native artist.

  • Odjig was the receipient of the Aboriginal Achievement Award.

Woodland art

Carl Ray…

Skunk Spirit (1977)

This painting was created using

only three colours.

  • Carl Ray was born on the Sandy Lake Reserve in Ontario in 1943 into a family of traditional healers.

  • A self-taught painter and printmaker, Ray began his artistic career by illustrating Cree legends and spiritual rituals.

  • Ray was introduced to what would be soon be recognized as the Woodland Style of native artwork when he helped Norval Morrisseau create the mural commissioned for the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo '67 in Montreal.

  • He died tragically in 1978.

Woodland art

Joseph Sanchez…

  • Joe Sanchez, an American draft dodger, was an accidental blip on the Canadian native art scene but was nevertheless a founding member of the Indian Group of Seven.

  • He had left his country and was trying to make a living in Winnipeg about the time Daphne Odjig and her husband, Chester Beavon, were opening up the Warehouse Gallery in the early 1970's.

  • They more or less took him under their wing so he became a member of the Professional Indian Native Artist's Inc association by default.

Raven Portrait (date unknown)

Woodland art

Website Sources for Images and Information on

Canadian Woodland Group of Seven Artists

Jackson Beardy…

Eddy Cobiness…

Alex Janvier…

Daphne Odjig…

Carl Ray…

Joseph Sanchez…

Woodland art

Red Willow, 2005 ,George Littlechild

Contemporary First Nations Artists

George Littlechild, Carl Beam, Michael Robinson,

Jane Ash Poitras, Ahmoo Angeconeb…

Woodland art

…George Littlechild

  • George Littlechild was born August 16, 1958 in Edmonton, Alberta from parents

  • of Plains Cree and Scottish/Micmac descent

  • He studied art and design at Red Deer College, Alberta, 1984

  • He earned a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, 1988

  • He is a painter, illustrator, writer and educator

  • His work is seen in many public and private collections throughout Canada and

  • exhibitions abroad

"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

Woodland art

…Carl Beam

  • Carl Beam, an Ojibwa, was born in M’Chigeeng (West Bay) on Manitoulin Island, Ontario in 1943

  • He studied at the University of Victoria, BFA, 1974

  • with post-graduate studies at the University of Alberta

  • In 1986, The North American Iceberg, an art work

  • by Carl Beam was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada for the first time as a piece of contemporary art rather than ethnographic art

  • He was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy

  • of Arts in 2000 and was a recipient of a 2005 Govenor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts

  • He died in 2005

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.”

Woodland art

…Michael Robinson

  • Michael Robinson was born in Ontario, Canada, 1948

  • He is an artist, glassblower, printmaker and writer

  • He studied at Sheridan College, School of Design, Glass Major, 1969 -1971

  • He lives in Keene, Ontario and Manitoulin Island, Ontario

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

Woodland art

…Jane Ash Poitras

  • Jane Ash Poitras was born (1951) in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta and makes her home in Edmonton Alberta

  • She received a Bachelor of Science degree and a Bachelor of Fine Art degree from the University of Alberta in Edmonton and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University in New York City

  • As a mixed-media artist, philosopher, writer and lecturer, her work is exhibited nationally and internationally

  • Her work reflects an insight of contemporary trends with strong associations to past and present native history and culture

Rebirth of the Four Coyote Spirits

Woodland art

…Ahmoo Angeconeb

  • Ahmoo Angeconeb is Ojibway, born April 19, 1955 in Sioux Lookout, Ontario

  • He is a painter, papermaker and printmaker

  • His work reflects the ideology of the Woodland School of Legend Painting

  • He currently lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario

Anishnawbe Woman, Keeper of the Culture, 2005

Woodland art

Website Sources for Images and Information on Contemporary First Nations Artists

George Littlechild…

Carl Beam…

Michael Robinson…

Jane Ash Poitras…

Ahmoo Angeconeb…