The act of gifting resonates in Morrisseau’s art. From his earliest days as an artist he gifted works on wiigwaas as a form of gratitude.


Bagijige means gifting, and is an important Anishinaabe protocol that inspired Morrisseau to paint these two birchbark scrolls. In 1961, after the Winnipeg doctor Dr. Matavi saw his daughter Victoria when she was ill, Morrisseau gave him these works as thanks. These two paintings of medicine snakes, both painted on two sheets of wiigwaas sewn together, speak of healing from an Anishinaabeg perspective.

Norval Morrisseau, Bagijige.


Norval Morrisseau, Bagijige, 1961

Norval Morrisseau, Bagijige, 1961

    Norval Morrisseau, (letter), 1960.

    In 1960, Morrisseau met Selwyn Dewdney, who was an artist and educator with an enduring love for the Canadian Shield. Dewdney and Morrisseau became friends and Dewdney edited Legends of My People, published in 1965. Letters written between these friends in the early 1960s offer insights into Morrisseau’s struggles and successes as a young artist.

    This letter to Selwyn Dewdney discusses Morrisseau’s use of birchbark as a medium for his artwork and describes how harvesting birchbark can only occur in May-June.

    Morrisseau mentions the nine birchbark paintings he has done for the Weinsteins in Cochenour and the Medicine Snake paintings for Dr. Matavi in Winnipeg.

    This painting is similar to one of the first paintings that Morrisseau showed Jack Pollock in the summer of 1962, a moment that is captured in a photograph included in The Art of Norval Morrisseau.

    Jack Pollock remembered:

    The images were flat, skeletal and economical. They had a unique sense of space…For me it was a moment of pure excitement and exhilaration.

    Norval Morrisseau, The Art of Norval Morrisseau, 1979, p. 17.

    Norval Morrisseau, Untitled (Fish), 1963.

    This painting on wiigwaas is rolled up and, because of its fragile nature, it can no longer be unrolled. It is another example of a Bagijige or gift as Morrisseau created this work as an offering to his friends.

    There is a message on the back written by Morrisseau in ballpoint pen:

    Warmest regards to my very best friend, Selwyn and family,

    Yours respectfully, Norval and family.

    Norval Morrisseau, Untitled (Thunderbird), 1961.

    Norval Morrisseau, Untitled (Medicine Snake and Thunderbird), 1958.

    In a story that Morrisseau says is based upon the Ojibwe and “a tribe of Longhouse People known as the Noduweck,” Morrisseau explains a contest of strength. (Norval Morrisseau, Legends of My People: The Great Ojibway, 1965, p. 91-101).

    Look over there, Noduweck. See the Thunderbirds in the sky. They are after your protector.

    Norval Morrisseau, Legends of My People: The Great Ojibway, 1965, p. 91-101.

    This painting, made from two seamed together pieces of birchbark, was created for the Weinsteins in Cochenour in the late 1950s.

    Norval Morrisseau, Man Changing into Thunderbird (Two Birds) | Untitled (Man Transforming into Thunderbird), 1958.

    This work done on birchbark explores the transformation of man into Thunderbird twenty years before Morrisseau painted Man Changing into Thunderbird.

    Morrisseau created this work while living in Cochenour, where he worked for a gold mine operation. He sold this work to the Weinsteins, artists and early supporters of his art.

    Norval Morrisseau, Untitled (The Horned Snake), 1958.

    Morrisseau painted this early representation of a sacred horned snake in the late 1950s. Part of the Joseph and Esther Weinstein collection, who supported and mentored Morrisseau during their stay in Cochenour, ON, the white coiled snake wears a medicine bundle and has decorative elements in and around its looping body.

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