Read a Story - Norval Morrisseau
by: Bonnie Devine, Curator and Artist
Bead the blanket and the cradleboard
Weave the rushes strongly through
Twine and wind the spruce root lashes
Hold them close and fair.
Strong of hand and sweet of face
Our mothers were.
Peel the willow and the Rabbit
Line with fur and moss the bed
Stretch the sinews through the notches
Pull them close and fair.
Firm of hand and strong of face
Our fathers were.
Sew the buckskins into blankets
Pierce their toughness deftly through
Shape and sculpt the Moose hide mantle
Form the tiny shoe.
Skill of hand and way of life
Our grandmothers knew.
Walk the trap line in the darkness
Stalk the Partridge and the Bear
Read the rocks and tell the stories
Sing them soft and fair.
Calm of hand and bold of heart
Our grandfathers were.
Play outside until we call you!
Climb the hill and swim the river
Pick blueberries for our dinner
Run and laugh and dare.
Bright of voice and light of face
Our children were.
Out of darkness comes the new one
Wakes the light and breaks the silence
Strives for breath and voice and movement
Cries out loud and far.
Brave of spirit, full of wonder -
The new ones are.
Norval Morrisseau, A Brief Encounter, An Eternal Transformation
by: Honey Novick
It was just a brief, chance encounter many years ago. 1970s Toronto, maybe on Queen St. West. I had been an original member of iconic Canadian performance art group, "General Idea." I also worked with the Ontario Metis and Non-Status Indian Association (now defunct). Norval was already a legend, ephemeral, ethereal. If you didn’t know who he was, you never would have known by his unassuming way.
I never forgot meeting Norval. His spirit lives in the way I look at the lines of his paintings, his colours, his stories, his vision, his experience in this and other lifetimes. Each line is deliberate, intentional, unending, multi-layered, meaningful.
When Norval died, on a grey autumn afternoon, I was compelled to go to the viewing at the funeral home to pay my respects and to say "Meegwetch, Ahaam, so long, be well until next time, journey safely."
While standing over the coffin looking at Norval's body, I received a telephone call. My friend and spirit sister, Cree Elder Pauline Shirt, called to ask me to sing "Amazing Grace" at Norval's funeral. She was the traditional native officiate. What a great honour!!!! Of course I agreed and my heart started beating wildly because I didn’t know his family, nor they me, but I really trust Pauline.
When I called Pauline to inform her that I was writing this memory, she told me to offer tobacco to our Earth Mother and the Creator and ask Norval’s spirit for a message.
I offered tobacco on the banks of a small river in the Hockley Valley. The sunset that evening was a huge, perfect ball of the brightest, blazing orange sinking into a black sky. These colours are the voice of Norval. The perfect sunset is the eternal vision of life's breath.
Norval Morrisseau's gift to my world opened the door of my imagination to the astral plane, a world he knew that I didn't.
When the long lines filing past Norval's casket came dwindling to a few people lingering, it was time to sing. I really didn’t feel "Amazing Grace" was the most fitting song. I publicly ask those at the funeral if I could sing an original song, "Adio Querido," rather than Amazing Grace. The melody of the Ladino Jewish people with words written by me, words that say "...goodbye my dear, I am so happy to know you, you have enriched my life. Your mother, when she brought you into the light, gave you a heart that loves much...Now you seek other flames, now you knock on other doors, now you flame other passions, but to me, you LIVE!"
I sang for the Morrisseau family, daughter, sons and brother. Norval’s brother said, "I didn't want the song to end." Me, too! As the Inuit say, "Songs are thoughts." For Norval Morrisseau, ideas are songs, songs are gifts, gifts are colours, and stories, people and creatures and all living beings.
Norval Morrisseau , (1931 - 2007)
Artist’s Wife and Daughter, 1975
acrylic on masonite
101.6 x 81.3 cm
McMichael Canadian Art Collection