Norval Morrisseau

Armand Garnet Ruffo

Norval Morrisseau

This compelling biography delves into the life of Norval Morrisseau, a self-taught Ojibway artist who rose to prominence to become one of the most innovative and important Canadian painters of the 20th century.

He was a charismatic - and troubled - figure who first started drawing sketches at age six in the sand on the shores of Lake Nipigon. He became a great internationally-known success, but struggled with alcoholism, often trading his art for booze, and landing in jail while his wife and children lived in poverty. (From Douglas & McIntyre)


The more I thought about Morrisseau and his life, the more I realized that his experiences, while extraordinary in their own right because of his unique gifts, were fundamentally connected to something larger than himself. I realized that Morrisseau's life was representative of the profound upheaval that had taken place in the lives of native people across the country. With their traditional economies and support systems in ruins, they were thrown into abject poverty, families literally starving to death, and it was into this milieu that Morrisseau, like my mother, was born in 1932 (which is the birth year that he acknowledged in a Department of Indian Affairs cultural development application). A period that coincided with the unparalleled movement by Native peoples to cities and one-industry towns across the country to find work-shell shocked as they were by a history of missionaries, decades of residential schooling that taught them to hate everything Indian, hate even themselves, the overt racism that made them stand at the back of the line, the total disregard and denigration of their cultures, the stereotypes that continually projected Hollywood versions of them whooping and hollering on the screen.

From Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing into Thunderbird by Armand Garnet Ruffo ©2015. Published by Douglas & McIntyre.