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Friday, June 17, 2011

The First Step, part 1


Norval Morrisseau
WHAT should be the first step in providing our readers with an insight into the fascinating universe that is behind our paintings and jewelryI pondered on this for a while and decided to go with a pragmatic approach to start with: an explanation about the Woodland School of Art...No artists - or art movement - have more influence on our canvases and jewelry than our Anishinaabe, CreeMétis, and Dene brothers and sisters who paint in the great northerly tradition of the Woodland, or Medicine Painters, School. This is part 1 of the series.

==Woodland School of Art==

The Woodland School Of Art, also named Woodland(s) style, Woodland(s) School, New Woodland School, Native Woodland Art, or Anishnabe (Anishinaabe) Medicine painting, is a genre of graphic design, painting, and jewelry making among Algonquian-speaking First Nations artists, the greater part being from the Great Lakes area - including northern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba -, and some from Quebec and Nova Scotia. The majority of the Woodland artists belong to the Anishinaabeg - notably the Ojibweg (often written as Ojibwa in Canada), the Odaawag, and the Anishininiwag (often called Oji-Cree or Woodland Cree) -the Métis; and the Cree. The style is also known as Legend Painting; insiders tend to speak of the Woodland painters as Medicine Painters. Although certain stylistic elements act as a common thread, the Woodland art school is a collective term for at least three generations of artists, many of whom practice various styles and approaches.

==A continuation of ancient traditions==

The term ''Woodlands style'' pertains to a fundamental relationship between the New Woodland School and the ancient artistic traditions of the Archaic Woodland cultures of Adena, Hopewell, and Southern Ceremonial Complex. The continuity of this artistic legacy, which displays striking similarities in form, content, and iconography, suggests that some aspects of the cultural tradition and world view of the ancient art forms in the Eastern Woodlands have been evolved into, and revitalized by, the ''New Woodland School''. The term woodlands style thus suggests an ancient and ongoing tradition forming the basis for - at least some of - the art of the New Woodland School of Art.*

==Creation of the art==

The style was founded by Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007), a First Nations Ojibwe artist from Northern Ontario, Canada, who is alternally labelled as "father of the Woodland Art" and "Picasso of the North". His true name (spirit name) was Miskwaabik Animikii, which means "Copper Thunderbird" in the language of his People. Miskwaabik Animikii was one of the the first to defy cultural restrictions by taking the oral traditions and sacred pictography of the Ojibwe-Midewiwin belief system outside Native communities in Canada. 

Norval Morrisseau Erotic Medicine Man and Moose.
Untitled acrylic on moose hide by Norval Morrisseau/Miskwaabik Animikii (year unknow: probably in the nineties.)

Morrisseau’s personal vision and intense commitment to his art and his community provided the catalyst for the style. He learned Ojibwe history and culture primarily from his grandfather Moses "Potan" Nanakonagos and later collected traditional narratives from his people in the 1950s. This oral and pictographic history provided subject matter for his paintings, and he drew upon dreams and visions.

I was born in 1959, the same year Norval Morrisseau started drawing and it was he who opened my eyes - and those of many other artists - to a separate reality - and eventually inspired me into creating jewelry designs in the Native Woodland style. For this reason I will always be greatly indebted to Noval Morrisseau, and he will be remembered for his trailblazing influence on the art world, inspiring many Native artists and countless folks in generations to come. Anishinaabe painter Simone McLeod, who was born two years later, has an akin experience and similar thoughts on the subject:

Woodland artist Simone McLeod The Fire Within

"When I began painting in the mid-nineties it was quite the experience to sit and feel a heavy heart at what I believed to be "revealing the ceremonial secrets of my people". It was then that I recalled hearing about Norval Morrisseau. I remember that when I heard others speaking of him they always seemed to be focused on his subject and less on him as the growing father of the first nations art movement. I cannot imagine how alone and in turmoil he may have been in feeling this need to share the "old ways" publicly. Perhaps he was before his time in seeing that one day media outlets would be thee best way to reach out and help our lost Peoples recognize the spirituality of his work and therefore begin the stirrings to search within ourselves and find the spirit memory that has been our way since the sun first shone. I as an artist and as an Anishinaabe woman, will be forever indebted to him for reawakening within me, my path, my memories, my history and my duty as a storyteller and artist and to carry on , on the road he started walking down. His footsteps blazed a trail that will be forever easier for the next one who chooses to follow it."**

Toronto-based Nakawe-Ojibwe artist Robert Houle, who was a close friend of Morrisseau's, once wrote:

“Norval, like all innovators, had made a trajectory to contemporary cultural theory, an idea I was not to understand until quite recently. It situated Norval at the centre of a cultural transformation, contemporary Ojibwa art. This legendary artist had created a visual language whose lineage included the ancient shaman artists of the Midiwewin scrolls, the Agawa Bay rock paintings and the Peterborough petroglyphs. As a master narrator, he had a voice that thundered like the sentinel of a people still listening to the stories told since creation.”

Morrisseau himself once said about his art: "All my painting and drawing is really a continuation of the shaman's scrolls". Ojibwe intaglio, pictographs, petrographs (rock art), birch bark incising, and birch bark scrolls, Wiigwaasabak, all brought together in the Anishinaabe term ''mazinaajimowin'', were stylistic antecedents of the Woodland style.

For further reading please click here.


Image at the top of the page: painting of Copper Thunderbird (Norval Morrisseau) by Steven Snake (2008)
* Source: Amelia M. Trevelyan, Continuity Of Form And Functions In The Art Of Eastern Woodlands. The Canadian Journal of Native Studies IX, 2 (1989): 187-203.

**Source: Fisher star Creations, The Influence Of Norval Morrisseau On Our Art.



About the author/artist:

Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in the Netherlands, was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. Zhaawano has Anishinaabe blood running through his veins; the doodem (clan) of his ancestors from Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten. As an artist, a writer, and a designer of  jewelry and wedding rings, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists.


1 comment:

  1. Copper Thunderbird will forever be known for true Art from his reincarnated soul. Imagination untamed.