Norval Morrisseau, artist (born 14 March 1932 in Sand Point Reserve, near Beardmore, ON; died 4 December 2007 in Toronto, ON). Morrisseau was a self-taught artist of Ojibwa ancestry (his Ojibwa name, which appears in syllabics on his paintings, means “Copper Thunderbird”) and he originated the pictographic style, or what is referred to as “Woodlands School,” “legend painting” or “x-ray art.” This style is a fusion of European easel painting with Ojibwe Midewiwin Society scrolls and pictography of rock paintings. Introduced to the Canadian public at the Pollock Gallery, Toronto, in 1962, Morrisseau was the first artist of First Nations ancestry to break through the Canadian professional white-art barrier. Throughout the 1960s Morrisseau’s pictographic style grew in popularity and was often perceived by other Cree, Ojibwe and Ottawa artists as a tribal style, to be adapted for their own cultural needs. By the 1970s younger artists painted exclusively in his genre.
For Morrisseau, the 1970s were a time of struggle to reconcile traditional Midewiwin and Christian religions in his art and personal life. Combining his Ojibwa heritage, instilled in him by his maternal grandfather, Moses Nanakonagos, with the religion Eckankar, his works during the 1980s became more focused on spiritual elements. Morrisseau continued to study Ojibwe shamanistic practices until late in his life, which he believed elevated his work to a higher plane of understanding.
Norval Morrisseau was presented with the Order of Canada in 1978. In 2006, the National Gallery of Canada mounted Norval Morrisseau – Shaman Artist, a travelling retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work.