A grand shaman and a great artist, Norval Morrisseau’s mission in life was to instill pride in his people. He did this by leading generations of aspiring artists to a world of powerful colour and spirit embodied in the thousands of paintings he created over nearly 50 years of intense artistic production. His art came from his deep knowledge of the visual and oral traditions of the Anishinabek. He transferred pictographic imagery and ancestral stories to acrylic on canvas in the most vibrant combinations of colour imaginable. Since he first exploded on the art scene in 1962 with a wildly successful solo exhibition he has been featured in exhibitions across Canada and around the globe. His murals graced the Indians of Canada pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal. He was the only painter from Canada invited to exhibit in the Magicians of the Earth exhibition at Paris’ Centre Pompidou, in France in 1989 and in 2006 he was the first First Nations artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada.
Over the years he received many awards in recognition of his achievements. He was a recipient of the Canada Centennial Medal in 1968, was appointed a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Art in 1973, and the Order of Canada in 1978. He was acknowledged as Grand Shaman of the Ojibwa in 1986, and honoured by the Assembly of First Nations in 1995. He received several honorary doctorates and in 2006 was one of the first artists to be inducted into the Royal Society of Canada: The Academies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada. His most significant and enduring achievement will be measured over generations as the lasting impact of his greatest ambition—to instill pride—makes itself felt in the art of new artists compelled to create by his masterful paintings.