At the McMichael Collection (1997) Norval Morrisseau

Norval Morrisseau at the McMichael Collection

Norval Morrisseau explores an exhibition in his honour accompanied by Ritchie Sinclair, Robert and Signe McMichael, Don Robinson, Gabe Vadas and others at the McMichael Canadian Collection on Sept. 28 1997. Outside on the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Collection Sinclair, Vadas and Morrisseau prepare for the Ceremony. Norval Morrisseau introduces the Bear Dance Shamanic Initiation ceremony that he intends to preform.

What we are about to do is an ancient Indian Bear Ceremony…an earth renewal ceremony. The Grand Shaman is now in…This is a secret society eh…We are allowing who is ever around looking… to look. Now what we are going to do is the Shaman…the Grand Shaman…with his assistant Shaman is bringing the Bear…who is the Initiate…He’s not a human…he’s a Bear. It won’t be too long or too short….So be it

Norval Morrisseau
1997
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The McMichael Collection was begun in the 1950’s when Signe and Robert McMichael bought their first painting by a member of the group, Lawren Harris’s ”Montreal River, Algoma.” Mr. McMichael was a young Toronto businessman, and it took them five months to pay off the painting at $50 a month. The McMichaels began collecting seriously as they prospered; they built a log and stone house to live in, and hung the art there. In 1965 the McMichaels gave the province of Ontario their house, land and collection that then numbered about 175 paintings.

The province has expanded both the collection and the building. There are now about 20 paintings by Emily Carr, a West Coast artist (1871-1945) who painted in the group’s tradition and was influenced by them. Like Harris, she painted to capture the spirit in the land, and her paintings in the collection bear an uncanny resemblance to his, in their mystical portrayal of nature. Carr was inspired by the Indians of the north Pacific Coast; in keeping with that link the collection now includes a small but fine selection of Northwest Coast Indian masks and a tall totem pole.

In northern Ontario a new kind of painting developed: Woodland Indian painting, which was fathered by the Ojibwa Norval Morrisseau, is the contemporary Indian answer to the pictographic tradition of their ancestors. This new style of painting uses flat, brightly colored shapes outlined in bold black lines to portray apparently transparent beings whose history and relationships are made clear through what’s inside them or connected to them by the bold black lines.

In the big room that was the McMichaels’ living room A. Y. Jackson used to sit and sketch by the window. He lived there from 1968 until 1974; the room that is now the little theater was his swimming pool. He was artist in residence and he brought to the McMichael Collection the spirit it deserved, the vision of the northern light.

Excerpt from “Painting the Wilderness”
by Joanne Ketes
NY Times
December 14, 1986