Early Years

During this formative period in Morrisseau’s career he met key allies who helped him move his practice from a dream to reality:




Morrisseau is mentored by Esther and Joseph Weinstein while living on McKenzie Island and working in a gold mine in Cochenour, ON.



OPP Constable Bob Sheppard introduced Morrisseau to Selwyn Dewdney, anthropologist, rock art specialists, and artist who mentors Morrisseau and helps him publish Legends of My People (1965) and gets Morrisseau his first gallery connection at the Hughes Gallery in London, ON.

Victoria Kakegamic, Norval and Harriet’s first daughter is born.



Meets Senator Allister Grosart who helps Morrisseau with support, funding and art connections. Morrisseau gifts him a painting of Michupichu.


Morrisseau is living in Beardmore and meets Jack Pollock in July 1962 who comes to Beardmore to do an art workshop. Artist Susan Ross encourages Pollock to meet Morrisseau.

Morrisseau has his first art exhibition at the Pollock Gallery in Toronto, ON and all 31 paintings are sold. Morrisseau becomes a sensation in the press and is now considered a professional artist.



Exhibition of work at Hart House, University of Toronto and Galerie Agnes Laford in Montreal.

The Weinsteins leave Red Lake with over fifty works by Morrisseau (many that eventually become part of the the Canadian Museum of History art collection). Morrisseau entrusts Dr. Weinstein to give a painting to Pablo Picasso, which he does in the summer of 1963.

Morrisseau and his family spend an extended period in Sandy Lake, ON, the home community of Harriet Kakegamic.

Morrisseau sells about fifty works of art to Dr. Joseph Weinstein and Esther Weinstein in Cochenour, ON.

The Weinsteins were educated artists and help to shape Morrisseau’s early vision of himself as an artist. They have many art-related books in their home that they share with him.

Joseph Weinstein describes the first time his wife Esther encountered one of Morrisseau’s birchbark paintings at McDougall’s General Store on McKenzie Island:

She was astonished… There was no doubt in her mind, however, that this magnificent painting was the work of a very talented and creative artist.

Christine Penner-Polle, Norval Morrisseau and the Woodland Artists: The Red Lake Years 1959-1980, Red Lake Cultural Centre, Red Lake, ON, 2008, p. 26.

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

This painting shows Morrisseau’s early technique of conveying story through black line and divided circles.

Although this version of Man Changing into Thunderbird uses lines emitted from each of the Thunder beings, Morrisseau does not use black line to interconnect the divided circles and figures as he does in his later art. This work done on birchbark explores the concept of transformation, twenty years before Morrisseau painted his iconic Man Changing into Thunderbird

This powerful painting of Michupichu, done in 1961, expresses the importance of this spiritual being that radiates spiritual power, communicated by the wavy lines emitted from the underwater demi-god.

Morrisseau gifted this painting to Senator Pete Robertson, an early ally of the artist’s who supported him. Like Senator Allistair Grossart, Robertson helped secure funding sources for him to continue painting.

Norval Morrisseau, Mishipeshoo, 1961.

Norval Morrisseau, Thunderbird with Ancestral Motifs, c. 1961.

Morrisseau’s 1961 Thunderbird with Ancestral Motifs captures spiritual, relational stories from the sky and water worlds using harvested birchbark or wiigwaas and spruce root. Familiar with sacred uses of birchbark scrolls, Morrisseau adapts these processes for artistic expression, rather than ceremonial purposes.

Following a process of seaming birchbark sheets with spruce root, Morrisseau incises images of both aki and nebi (land and water), before painting over them with gouache. The artist transmits his own storied knowledge of these spirit beings, as he formulates his unique artistic language. 

Exhbition at Pollock Gallery


Morrisseau arrived at artist and gallery owner, Jack Pollock’s workshop in Beardmore, ON. with several works to show the Toronto workshop instructor. This photograph, taken during their initial meeting, shows Morrisseau sharing his art. 

The next day, when Pollock visited Morrisseau’s home, he said:

He then showed me fifteen or twenty pictures, some done on white watercolour paper, some on birchbark, others on heavy natural kraft paper… I knew that Morrisseau was an artist with vision, and I decided then and there that I would show them in my gallery in Toronto.

Art of Norval Morrisseau, 1979, 18.

Photograph, 1962. Jack Pollock (center) and Norval Morrisseau (right) with unidentified woman. Photo Courtesy of Art Gallery of Ontario, Pollock Fond.

Morrisseau’s signature on the front of his exhibition invitation at Pollock Gallery, September 1962.

Morrisseau's exhibition at the Pollock Gallery was a first for a First Nations art in Canada to show his art at an art gallery in Toronto.

1962 Exhibition Invitation to Pollock Gallery, Toronto, ON.

This invitation was signed by Morrisseau for Jack Pollock.

Video footage from Pollock Gallery sold out show, 1962.

The 1962 exhibition was a national news event, in part, because of the artists racial identity and in part because he was creating contemporary work. Works included in the first show (1962) were interpreted as both primitive and modern by art critics at the time.

The sell-out show prompted Time Magazine to write:

Hulking (6 foot 2 inches) Primitivist Morrisseau began to paint only three years ago after a dream in which he was told to set down the symbols and myths of his fellow Ojibways…. Few exhibition in Canadian art history have touched off a greater immediate stir than Morrisseau’s.

Time Magazine, September 28, 1962.

Norval Morrisseau, The Moose Dream Legend, 1962.

This work was purchased at the opening of the 1962 exhibition at the Pollock Gallery.

Norval Morrisseau, Untitled (Bear), 1962.

This work that expresses the sacred connections between bear and fish was purchased at the 1962 exhibition at the Pollock Gallery.

Included in the 1962 exhibition at the Pollock Gallery, it is one of two bear and fish paintings in the exhibition. This version is an excellent example of an early formulation of Morrisseau’s storytelling vocabulary.

Morrisseau paints the interior body cavities of the bear and fish in a white ground to signal their sacredness. Both the fish and the bear are connected from their mouths through to their rear with a line that also articulates their relational sacred significance. Morrisseau includes a divided circle/sun motif, that is attached to the bear’s back. Morrisseau adds a series of short lines on the bear and fish to further convey their spiritual energy.

Norval Morrisseau, Bear and Lake Trout, 1962.

Norval Morrisseau, Two Fish, 1962.

This painting from 1962 is one of the first works that Morrisseau shared with Jack Pollock that led to the exhibition at the Pollock Gallery.

Photograph from The Art of Norval Morrisseau, 1979, p. 16

Norval Morrisseau showing Two Fish to Jack Pollock in Beardmore, ON in July 1962. Photograph from Art of Norval Morrisseau, 1979, p. 16

Norval Morrisseau, Sacred Snake of Good and Evil, 1962.

This painting was sold by the Pollock Gallery in 1962.

Morrisseau painted the two-headed horned sacred snake from the water realm in white to convey the powerful spirit of this being. The snake, or serpent, is also surrounded by five split circle energy bundles that express the balance of good and evil, one offset in blue while the others are red and yellow. Morrisseau uses spiritual colours like white, blue, red, and yellow in this work. Line and interior segmentations also convey the spiritual nature of this spiritual being.

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.

In 1963, Morrisseau and his family visit Sandy Lake, ON, for an extended visit in Harriet’s home community.

During this period, Morrisseau writes a number of letters to Selwyn Dewdney about ideas he has about his art.

Norval Morrisseau, Dewdney Archival Letter, April 25, 1961.

Cochenour Ont.
Sept 18 1963 - 

Dear friend Selwyn - 

Well my friend, I am sorry I was not able to answer you - the cause you will see at my show in Toronto open originally Sept. 25 1963 (postponed one week so will be open about end of Sept). I am bringing my family to Toronto which I hope to meet you and Irene and sons. I will return or visit with you - ok. Do you know the lawyer and his wife - whom we visit at London Ont, well I am still thinking if he ever got anything for his mantle over his fire - I am forwarding you one bark painting to you c/o to you to them if they would buy the picture - my price is one hundred fifty dollars, the original price would be about $250 framed.

I trust they will understand that I would need this amount to buy extra clothing for my family for this trip to Toronto - 

I will see you in Toronto then we will decide about London visit from there ok.

Your friend always

Photo of Jack Pollock admiring works by Morrisseau created in preparation for Morrisseau’s 1965 book, Legends of My People

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