Friday, November 16, 2018

Pearl McCarthy about Norval Morrisseau

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Kevin Hearn Vs. Joseph B. McLeod and Maslak McLeod Gallery Inc.
/Court File No. CV-12-455650/

"SPIRIT ENERGY OF MOTHER EARTH HAS NOT BEEN PROVED TO BE A FORGED OR FAKE MORRISEAU. FROM THE LAW'S POINT OF VIEW, IT IS THEREFORE A REAL NORVAL MORRISSEAU PAINTING."-

~ Justice Edward M. Morgan, May 24, 2018--
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"Bear in Fish Spawn*," © 1962 Norval Morrisseau
/Click on image to enlarge/


"Morrisseau's genius for unifying or braking space in his designs is astonishing, as sureness of line. It cannot be classed as primitive art, because both the ideas and the expression evince cultivated thought. As this mysticism has never been recorded he is breaking new ground."
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Pearl McCarthy, The Globe and Mail, August 1962- -
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Note: This painting was displayed at Norval Morrisseau's first public exhibition which was held at Jack Pollock's gallery (The Pollock Gallery) on September 14, 1962 in Toronto, Ontario. 'Time' magazine (Canadian edition) commented about the event that "Few ex­hibits in Canadian art history have touched off a greater stir."


* - The above painting was used in The Globe and Mail's article titled 'Explorers Discover New Ideas' written by Pearl McCarthy; August 1962.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

NOVEMBER - Domestic Violence Awareness Month

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https://manitobachiefs.com/domesticviolencemonth/



























“Domestic violence is a serious concern for First Nations. I encourage families to have discussions about this issue and for individuals to make themselves aware of resources that exist to help when violence occurs,” said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. “It’s tragic that many First Nations citizens experienced and witnessed violence as young children attending residential schools. Living through those harsh conditions created the roots for violence to take place once back at home. There is a need for healing to overcome the dark legacy of abuse experienced at residential schools.”



Treaty One Territory, MBThe Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs






Monday, November 12, 2018

Eleven Years of Research on the Great Canadian Indigenous/Anishinaabe Painter Norval Morrisseau a.k.a. Copper Thunderbird

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November 12th, 2007 - November 12th, 2018
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Kevin Hearn Vs. Joseph B. McLeod and Maslak McLeod Gallery Inc.
/Court File No. CV-12-455650/

"SPIRIT ENERGY OF MOTHER EARTH HAS NOT BEEN PROVED TO BE A FORGED OR FAKE MORRISEAU. FROM THE LAW'S POINT OF VIEW, IT IS THEREFORE A REAL NORVAL MORRISSEAU PAINTING."-

~ Justice Edward M. Morgan, May 24, 2018--

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Ugo Matulic in front of Kinsman Robinson Galleries, February 2013





"How was it possible for this youth to reach back to the old feelings, to conceive the images that would bear the unmistakable stamp of his people? How could this firm pride originate in a community relegated to the status of third class citizens, constantly reminded of this status and defeated by it? What was there about this lad that earned for him in a medicine woman's dream the combined names of a powerful spirit and the metal traditionally sacred to the Lake Superior Ojibway - Copper Thunderbird?"

Selwyn Dewdney (1909 - 1979)

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Sunday, November 11, 2018

100 Years of the Armistice Day




"Giacomo Matulic* with his Friends" 
Norval Morrisseau Blog Master's grandfather as
a member of the Austro-Hungarian Army 
/First from the left, early 20th Century/


- In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below...

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields...

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields...

Lt.-Col. John McCrae





* - Jakov (Giacomo) Matulic (1895-1945) - an active participant of the First and the Second World Wars

Source (image): www.almissa.com, Omiš, Croatia
                                   (Used with permission; Webmaster Ugo Matulic)


Saturday, November 10, 2018

"HERO = ZERO" by Robert Lavack

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Robert Lavack (third from the left) with friends, WWII
/Click on image to Enlarge/


Under this working title, Robert Lavack is writing a fact-filled memoir of his life. Born and raised in Canada's west, and later working as a citizen of the world, Robert's extraordinary World War II experiences make compelling reading in the heart of an engrossing life. Friendship with Norval Morrisseau, aerial geological surveys in Canada's north, near death flying adventures in Africa and brief commercial forays into chemical toilets, sugar beet grinders and zeppelins are just a few of Mr Lavack's post WWII adventures.

Below is a lesson from the Durham West Art Centre's Reading and Remembrance project 2005. http://dwac.ca/press/readingRemembrance2005.html and http://dwac.ca/press/readingRemembranceResource2005.html.

Robert
"Kurt" Lavack was a young Canadian lad in the merchant marine when his boat was torpedoed. As one of six survivors, he was taken to Britain where he could choose training in the Royal Air Force. He was trained and flew 84 bombing missions-a remarkable feat considering the tremendous casualty rate of British and Canadian airmen.

"My first tour was 250 combat hours on fighters. This tour started in the UK and culminated in the Middle East during the first and second battles of El Alamein. Then I made the mistake of volunteering for bombers to get out of the Middle East. My first bomber tour started in the UK but half way through our group was transferred to the Middle East. Bomber tours in the UK were 30 operations (raids), but when we were transferred to the Middle East this had increased to 40 operations. Supporting the invasion of Sicily and Italy resulted in losses of crew and slow replacements. Like many other RAF aircrew, my tour was extended. My tour terminated at 47 raids. My second bomber tour was out of Italy and was a 30 raid tour. The old loss and no replacement formula persisted and as a result, I did 37 raids on that tour."


















Robert Lavack in the Western Desert (Egypt) in 1942
/Click on image to Enlarge/


The photo showing me half inside my tent was taken in the Western Desert in 1942 during the first Battle of El Alamein. My squadron was based south of Sidi Barrani when Rommel captured Tobruk in June 1942 and the British forces started their withdrawal to the El Alamein line. We lived rather rough like in the army. The dug out tent wasn't mandatory, but it tended to be safer in bombing and strafing attacks. Water was rationed and the diet was mainly bully beef, tinned potatoes, pickles, hardtack, jam and tea. A good evening snack was to fry the hardtack in butter and eat it warm with jam. We would occasionally get eggs from Bedouins who passed through the area with their camels and sheep. They wanted dry tea and we had lots of that but limited water. Washing was a luxury but we could occasionally take a trip to the ocean about 20+ miles north and soak in the sea."

Mr Lavack, now living in the Czech Republic on a posting with his Swedish Diplomat wife is writing the stories of his war years.

edited by Angie Littlefield





Source: Robert "Kurt" Lavack by Angie Littlefield


Additional information: 

1) Mr. Robert F. Lavack's KIA (Killed in Action) misinformation from the Canadian Air Force Museum,
-2) Communication between Mr. Robert F. Lavack and Royal Air Force (RAF) Headquarters Air Command regarding the misinformation about his KIA records found in the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum in Brandon, Manitoba and on the internet - including RAF Headquarters Air Command confirmation of this misinformation about Mr. Robert F. Lavack,
-3) Minister of Veterans Affairs of Canada thanking Mr. Robert F. Lavack for his contribution as the Mechant Navy Veteran (MNV),
-4) Newspaper article displaying an account of Mr. Robert F. Lavack being blown up by hostile elements in the Choke Mountains of Ethiopia after he purportedly 'fled' Canada while working for the World Health Organization (WHO) anti-smallpox program,-
5) A letter to the Ethiopian Provisional Military Government, Ministry of Health, Smallpox Eradication Program explaining Mr. Robert F. Lavack’s incident when helicopter destroyed while on the ground,
-6) A thank you note to Mr. Robert F. Lavack from the British Ambassador in Ethiopia for rescuing a wounded British nurse with other wounded from a Save the Childrens Convoy that were under attack by a guerilla group when they were evacuating the the war zone on the Ethiopian-Somalia border &
-7) Mr. Robert F. Lavack's 'Order Of Bifurcated Needle' while working for WHO; Awarded by UN in Geneva, Switzerland in 1976.-

~ Documents provided by Mr. Robert F. Lavack
/Compiled & edited by Ugo Matulić a.k.a. Spirit Walker/



>>> Reference posts:
- THE MORRISSEAU PAPERS,
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Friends of Norval Morrisseau (Part III)
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- Robert Lavack and the Norval Morrisseau Postage Stamp /Revised/,
- The Morrisseau Legacy missing links (Part I),
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Mr. Robert Lavack's Open Letter to Spirit Walker,
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Correspondence between Norval Morrisseau and Mr. Robert Lavack (Part I),
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Norval Morrisseau Signature Study (Part III) & - NO! NO! MORRISSEAU - 'Christmas Letter to Norval Morrisseau' by Mr. Robert Lavack.
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Friday, November 9, 2018

Mr. Robert Lavack's Open Letter to Spirit Walker (Ugo Matulic)

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~ This post was originally published on May 22nd, 2008
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Mr. Robert Lavack in his home in Prague, Czech Republic
~ Currently residing in Malmö, Sweden (2018)


Dear Spirit Walker,

Please feel free to post the revised edition of the "Morrisseau Christmas Letter" sent to Norval in December 2004. I wrote this on a "spur of the moment" urge after my meeting with Norval in Toronto at the Kinsman Robinson Gallery earlier that year. I noted "revised edition" because the original was done in a hurry and had a few typographic errors. I have a large file of letters that include correspondence from Norval, Harriet, Victoria, Josh Kakegamic, politicians and others that contributed to the early development of Norval. Through many of these one can discern a line of humor that was typical in the events that concerned Norval.

The Morrisseau I read about in the various blogs is quite a different person from the one I knew during the 1960s and 1970s. He was no oracle spouting philosophical prose, but rather a person that displayed a unique humorous character that ofttimes ignored the consequences of his actions. He was a larconic/humorous mix that one could imagine playing Tonto as a co-star to the Lone Ranger in a Western comedy series. The only criticism I have about the blogs I've read to date is the tendency for some to deify Norval. This tends to place him in the same category of an over paid rock star or athlete that retains public adulation for brief periods and is soon forgotten. Norval was fortunate to be a creative artist that will be remembered as one of greats, and possibly one that used his artistic bent to further the recognition of his people. He wasn't alone in this endeavour because there are other North American Indians (I don't like the new demeaning political "First Nation" term) who have done this in the visual and literary arts. You have posted some of these outstanding individuals on your blog.

Without passing any artistic judgement on the painting of Norval Morrisseau "Dance of the Weasels" that you have shown on your recent blog, it is a painting I can imagine Norval doing when he was in a humorous mood. Something I would like to buy if it was available and the price was right. When I saw it I burst out laughing because it gave me a brief glimpse of the old Morrisseau I knew. The "Dance of the Weasels" and the recent "Three Blind Mice" paintings would keep me laughing until I stepped off this planet.

There are some excellent comments and evaluations of note that appear in the contributors' postings on your blog. I liked the Bryant Ross and Thunderbear888 (Michael R. Moniz) views on authentication. These were excellent. There is bound to be differences of opinion about this, but without the input of those that agree or disagree, we would never solve that problem. If I can convince myself a Morrisseau is authentic, by the old gut feeling formula, then I am happy to accept the painting as such. But that doesn't mean I would accept it fully unless I got an expert's advice and some hard provenance or authentication.

So keep up the good work Spirit Walker. If I see any pertinent items on your blog, or other blogs, that relate to some of the letters I have on file, I would be happy to scan and sent these to the blog master to use as he/she wishes.

All the best.

Robert Lavack

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NO! NO! MORRISSEAU - 'Christmas Letter to Norval Morrisseau' by Mr. Robert Lavack

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~ This post was originally published on December 25th, 2010





























"Joseph with Christ Child and St. John the Baptist",
© 1973 Norval Morrisseau /Click on image to Enlarge/


>>> The following is an 'August 29th, 2009 Review' by Mr. Robert Lavack of the post NO! NO! MORRISSEAU – Christmas Letter to Norval Morrisseau from Mr. Robert Lavack.


NO! NO! MORRISSEAU

The letter from Canada was pushed noisily through the postal slot at my Swedish address along with my daily ration of advertisements and junk mail. It was one of those dark grey winter morning that didn’t bode well for any activity. But this was ignored as I hurried to scan the latest computer offers to determine whether my recent computer purchase had been premature. Convinced that I hadn’t been swindled, I bundled up that morning’s offerings with another pile and hastened to dispose of the lot in the common waste paper containers of the apartment complex. This activity had developed into a clandestine paper race among the tenants to ensure they got rid of their paper bounty before the containers were filled. Feeling relieved that I was successful in the current paper race, I turned my attention to the letter. The return address indicated it was from a dear friend and colleague, Angie Littlefield. ”Rather odd”, I thought, “She usually communicates by email”. Opening the letter I found it contained an article about Norval Morrisseau, a Canadian Ojibwa whom we both knew from the 1960-70 era when he was a developing artist. Since then Norval had gained international recognition and many honours. The article "The Ecstasy of Norval Morrisseau" was written by John Geddes of MacLean’s Magazine who did a credible job in presenting Norval as he currently was. John was well qualified to do this. As a boy growing up in Couchenour, they had met when Norval was employed in the local gold mine. Now a journalist, John had followed Norval’s career with greater than normal interest. I had been out of contact with my Canadian roots for many years and had assumed that Norval had by now stepped off this world. His life style, when I last saw him in the early 1970’s, would have guaranteed an early demise for an average man. But Norval wasn’t a statistical average by any means, and John’s he article dated January 26, 2004 upheld that assessment.

The professional flow of the article triggered my memory and conveyed an ominous and near spiritual presence of Norval. My pulse stepped up a few beats at the thought that Norval might have surfaced to haunt me again. I knew my dear friend and colleague, Angie, wouldn’t have meant any harm by mailing me the article (That statement is questionable!), thus I wondered if she still linked me with Norval. The likely event that may have caused this thought in her devious mind, dated back to the early 1970’s. That was when I flew her and a friend (with a lot of unnecessary camping gear women like to carry) to a lovely lake site in the hinterland of NW Ontario a few miles south of Sandy Lake in NW Ontario. I had suggested this idyllic location as one that would suit their requirements to relax after a hard year of secondary school teaching. Since I had planned an early summer circuit of the isolated Indian communities I served for the Ontario Department of Education, I offered to fly them in and out of this beautiful location. Before leaving them in the wilderness with their camping and painting gear doing black fly aerobics to ward off these persistent insects (they had neglected to take a supply of essential insect repellent), I told them that there were two artists, Norval Morrisseau, an Ojibwa, and Carl Ray, a Cree, living in the adjacent Sandy Lake Indian community a few miles to the north. Adding that they should take time out from their planned activities to meet these fellow artists. I even showed them the overgrown forest path that led from their location to Sandy Lake. My mischievous genes knew this would result in their buying some of Norval’s and Carl’s paintings and give these two native con men the opportunity to inveigle any painting material the teachers hadn’t used. Angie made it a point to meet with Norval and Carl and was amazed how they managed to depict the legends of their people with the material they had available. Lacking adequate art supplies, they used poster paints and whatever paper, cardboard, or even locally tanned deer hide, on which to do this. Carl had also been busy working on a publishing project at the time and didn’t have any paintings to sell. As expected, Norval, sold Angie some paintings and charmed (‘conned’) her out of her remaining art supplies.

John Geddes, the author of the article, certainly didn’t link me with Norval like Angie did, but his penetrating writing style made me recall the time Norval’s and my paths first crossed. This was during the early 1960’s and was to continue for nearly 10 years. Then I left Canada to pursue a career overseas and I would only hear snippets of news about Norval as his fame grew. Whenever I heard some news about Norval, I would tell tall tales to my colleagues about the situations in which he had involved me when we worked together, situations almost impossible to relate without bursting into laughter. But to give credit to my military and civil service training, I had recorded many of these happenings through an exchanged of letters with Norval, members of his family and a host of other related individuals and agencies. For some reason these files were retained on the chance they might be used later to record that part of my life for posterity.

Fleeting thoughts of my experiences with Norval jelled as I read John’s article. I chuckled at some of the hilarious incidents my memory invoked as I recalled how these had brightened the dull routine of my civil service life. Viewed through the lens of time, these incidents (oft-time near disasters) were now remembered fondly in an amusing light. I was fortunate to have had a background that allowed me to view these as learning experiences and to realize and accept the change these often forced upon me. Working with Norval certainly invoked changes. I like to think the ‘Great Manitou’, or the Thunderbird he claimed as his supreme being, had in some mysterious manner, selected me to help him along his path to international recognition. In return, I was given the opportunity to escape from a career in which there was financial security but little personal happiness.

My first thought when seeing the title of the MacLean’s article was, “More bullshit about Norval”. But I was pleasantly surprised when I read and absorb its contents. The author had not only done his research well, but his first meeting Norval as an impressionable youth had been retained as an indelible memory. This event occurred when John opened the house door to a loud knocking on a dark night. The interior light reflected off a tall, unkempt and intoxicated Rasputin like apparition with long hair and piercing dark eyes. It must have been a terrifying moment for a young boy, but this was eased by the wide smile of the apparition and a request to speak to his father. This initial impression remained with John and led to an ongoing interest in this gifted individual, one that he carried into his career as a journalist. The only other author, to my knowledge to date, that came close to describing Norval accurately was Jack Pollock. In his memoir, "Dear M: Letters from a Gentleman of Excess", Jack wrote an accurate rendition of his early art workshop experience with Norval and extended this brilliantly into their later business relationship. He met Norval at one of the art workshops he conducted for the Ontario Department of Education, Jack was 'moonlighting’ in this activity to supplement his income derived from a struggling Toronto art business. This led to his promoting Norval in the Toronto art world as a Canadian Ojibwa artist. Through the many experiences this entailed, Jack was well qualified to chronicle Norval’s artistic life during the time they worked together in the Toronto art world. His commercial dealings with Norval were fair and above board. Being a kind and sensitive individual, Jack accepted the many problems inherent in nurturing Norval’s advancement in Toronto and later, as this expanded to an international level. He always had Norval’s best interests at heart until he died. I like to think that Jack took over from my colleagues and me that had done all they could to start Norval on his rocky road to fame. Being civil servants, we couldn’t tap into the commercial side of the art world, but Jack could, and in doing so, he did an admirable job. There is no denying that, as a businessman, he promoted Norval for profit. He did this through presenting Norval for what he was, a ‘primitive’ native artist that depicted the legends of his people. Through advertising and art shows, Jack developed a large clientele for Norval’s art. There was also a clientele feedback from the earlier cross-cultural art circuits conducted by the Ontario Department of Education that initiated and continued to advance Norval’s recognition. But it required a combined art and business expertise of a person like Jack to advance Norval further. Urban dwellers were attracted to this unique art form depicting Canadian native legends in such a strong and colourful manner. There was an element of mystic in Norval’s painting that caught and captured the attention of many amateur collectors. They not only bought his art because of the legends it represented, but also because of the strong colour combinations that brightened up their homes. There were no experts to explain the legends depicted except Norval, and he would give the ‘white eyed’ viewer the interpretation he felt they wanted. The early 1960 - 1970 Morrisseau originals were relatively inexpensive and, it is true, that some were exchanged for that legendary bottle of wine when Norval was on a binge. The average selling price of an original Morrisseau during the late 1960 and early 1970 art circuits was around $25.00. Today these early ‘primitives’, rated by many as from his best period, are worth well over $10,000 and will continue to appreciate rapidly in value.

Norval’s life style, often exaggerated by the media, added to his fame. During what consider his formative and launching period, he attended Ontario Department of Education art workshops, that led to his being employed as an art instructor on contract in the secondary schools cross-cultural program. He and Carl Ray formed a good working and drinking relationship that continued until Carl was stabbed to death , as a result of a drunken brawl over money in Sioux Lookout in 1978. Soon after this Norval came under Jack Pollock’s influence, and that definitely accelerated his recognition as an artist. Jack soon realized he had hit on a financial jackpot, in the sense that he could sell as many paintings that Norval could produce. But his business acumen was hampered on the production side because Norval only painted when and what he wanted. Had Jack not controlled Norval’s earnings the ‘when’ factor would have been in ‘never-never’ land, or delayed until Norval’s money ran out. His high living and generosity to his friends assured this and when that happened he started painting again.

Jack is often credited with ‘discovering’ Norval. This is true, if it restricted to Toronto’s art world. I’m sure Jack would have denied this ‘discovery’ honour because it is a debatable point. The truth is likely that Norval discovered himself. He was definitely encouraged by individuals like Jack, Dr. Joseph Weinstein, a legendary Cochenour physician, Paul Bennett, a Toronto secondary school art teacher, Bud Thomas of the Department of Education, Lassy Malowany, a beautiful Public Health Nurse who was of great help to Norval’s abandoned family, Ontario Provincial Police constable Robert Sheppard who introduced him to Selwyn Dewdney, and others personnel of the Community Programs Branch, Ontario Department of Education and Federal Indian and Northern Affairs. The Community Program Branch spanned a wide range of informal education, somewhat like the Folk Schools in Scandinavia. It also had sufficient flexibility to launch a wide range of programs that bridged the gap between art, crafts, community sports and formal education. Its demise was no doubt due to its flexibility and the push from the sports enthusiast within its ranks. These eventually succeeded to make it a ‘jocks’ sports preserve. A change that may have led to Canada’s continued poor Olympic standing and an increase in the country’s ‘couch potatoes’ that on a per capita basis challenge the number of those of the United States.

The intent of the cross-cultural art circuits was primarily to make secondary school students aware of Canada’s native culture. Something realistic and beyond the unflattering fringes observed when the local taverns emptied, or those portrayed by Hollywood. It brought them in direct contact with Norval, an Ojibwa, and Carl, a Woodland Cree, both tall and handsome young men who were accomplished artists with natural teaching abilities. Empowered with these skills Norval and Carl narrated the legends behind their painting so that these lived on in the minds of their young audiences and gave them a better insight into native culture of their country.

My first meeting with Norval must have been around the same time as John Geddes when he was a boy of nine living in Couchenor. This would be in the early 1960’s after I started a new career with the Ontario Department of Education. The territory I was allocated encompassed a large part North Western Ontario, a vast area from the American border in the south to the Hudson Bay in the north, from 20 miles west of Thunder Bay to the Manitoba border further west. This encompassed an area of about 110,000 sq miles (176,000 sq km). It contained a sparse permanent population of around 100,000 that increased considerably during the summer months when fishing, hunting par and mineral prospecting parties added to this number. My responsibility in this territory was to serve 14 white communities and 26 or more native communities. Twenty-two of the latter were classified ‘isolated’ because there was no connecting road infrastructure to serve them. The only access was by float aircraft during the open water seasons and ski-equipped aircraft when the winter ice in the myriad of lakes throughout the hinterland was thick enough to bear their weight. Helicopters were used for essential air transport during the month to 6 week ‘freeze up’ and ‘break up’ periods when lake surface conditions prevented the use of fixed-wing aircraft. The water routes and forest paths of antiquity were there, but seldom used since reliable air transportation became available. Bulk supplies were transported to the isolated communities during the winter months by tractor trains when the lake ice could bear the weight. My selection for the job was probably influenced by the fact that I was a geologist accustomed to ‘bush’ living and also a qualified teacher. Perhaps the fact that I was also qualified as a fixed wing and helicopter pilot, and also as an aircraft maintenance engineer, some higher authority must have thought that I would use these skills to gain access to the isolated communities for which there no air travel budget. They were correct. I soon found out that there was a need for helicopter pilots during the annual fire season so was able to make my own flying budget doing this moonlighting job.

Norval had been released from the TB Sanatorium in Fort William (now Thunder Bay) two years or so prior to our first meeting. While there he had met and later married Harriet Kakagamic, who had also been a patient. After their marriage they decided to live in Sandy Lake, Harriet’s home and an isolated community about 150 air miles north of Red Lake. One of the end of the road communities where bush aircraft are used for flight to the northern hinterland that stretches to the shores of Hudson Bay. It wasn’t unusual for newly married Ojibwa or Cree couples to settle in the wife’s matrilineal community. But for Norval, this was a traumatic change. He was cast into a subsistence life of hunting and fishing, both skills in which he was inept. He had been brought up in the mixed, native/white, community of Beardmore near Thunder Bay in the south where his hunting skills were confined to the local supermarket. Being a charismatic character with a Shamanistic reputation gained through his grandfather, combined with his painting skill of depicting the legends of his people, he was accepted with good standing by the people of Sandy Lake. This acceptance and his ability to supplement his welfare payments with the occasional sale of a painting allowed him and his family to live a marginal but acceptable family life. This acceptance with his being ‘street wise’ in through being growing up in mixed population community of Beardmore led to his being chosen by the Sandy Lake Band as a delegate for the Chiefs and Counsellors Training course at the Quetico Conference Training Centre near Atikokan, Ontario.

This brings up the controversial issue of how and when Jack Pollock first met Norval. My memory places this meeting at the Quetico Centre during the early 1960’s. I often read they met at a community art workshop in Beardmore organized by the Ontario Department of Education where Jack was the instructor. They could have met at both Quetico and Beardmore workshops, since these were held in both places. These were initially organised by Bud Thomas whom I replaced as a consultant. Paul Bennett, an art teacher for one of the Toronto school boards, was the original art instructor for these. When Paul decided to undertake graduate studies, he recommended Jack Pollock to replace him as the art instructor for the community workshops Paul and Bud Thomas likely alerted jack Pollock about Norval because Bud told me to about a rather interesting Indian artist who painted the legends of his people. Mentioning that he had met Paul at one of the department workshops in the area. I suppose this happened when Norval was visiting his home in Beardmore when he and his family lived at Sandy Lake. I was always under the impression that Norval and Jack first met at the Quetico Conference and Training Centre. It’s likely that the legendary meeting between Norval and Jack was really the meeting between Norval and Paul. It’s not a big issue, but I remember the time when I can only surmise when Norval and Jack Pollock first met. This was at the Quetico Centre where Jack had been contracted by the Department of Education to conduct an art workshop. After one of his art sessions Jack indicated that a tall Indian kept popping into his art class and asked me whether he was enrolled. In checking this out, I found that Norval was supposed to be attending the Chiefs and Counsellors Training Course but hadn’t been spending a lot of time there. It was obvious that he was the tall native Jack had mentioned. When next he played truant from his class he had some paintings with him that he planned to sell during his training period away from Sandy Lake. He showed these to Jack who was very impressed to see that with only poster paints and coarse kraft paper, Norval had produced powerful depictions of his people’s mythology. In his estimation, these surpassed any primitive native art he had seen in the past. “Don’t waste his time on that administrative crap that he’ll never use”. I remember Jack saying and being a little hurt by this unsolicited but accurate criticism. “Let him attend the rest of my art classes because I want to see him actually paint”. Thus my first meeting with Norval occurred and the link between Norval and Jack formed. I was destined to see a lot Norval after that meeting.

In my visits to Sandy Lake and other meetings with Norval, it was obvious that he had gained full acceptance from his adopted community. His obsessive urge to paint was stifled somewhat by the isolation Sandy Lake imposed on his artistic temperament. It was also obvious that he felt restricted there, especially during the long winter months when few strangers visited. This sort of life was difficult for a developing artist who had difficulty in obtaining art supplies and even to find room to paint in a crowded cabin with a growing family. This led to a decision to leave Sandy Lake for Couchenour and later Beardmore, where he had been raised by his grandparents He settled his wife Harriet and their then four children in the McKenzie Island community, near Red Lake, so she could be in easy contact with her family at Sandy Lake and started a life as a wandering artist. There were the occasional binges when his art income peaked after an art showing in Toronto or when he was contracted for the secondary school art circuits by the Department of Education. But his obsession for his art goddess continued without any thought how this might impact on his growing family. Whenever he visited Harriet for a few weeks, he left her pregnant. These periodic visits continued until they had seven children. It’s difficult to read the thoughts of an obsessed person, but I think Norval’s increasing family responsibility placed him on the knife-edge of a critical decision. It became a choice between family, or art. Art won. Except for a few reconciliation attempts, Norval never really rejoined his family again. His obsession to pursue the only goal he sought possessed him and this became his main drive that overshadowed all other responsibilities. He did achieve his goal but at great personal and family sacrifice, paralleling, in a sense, those of van Gogh, Gauguin and other great artists of previous generations. When using such comparison, I often got the comment, “Well, he wasn’t crazy enough to cut off his ear.” That makes me wonder why that didn’t happen because Norval was capable of almost anything in his pursuit of his art. His greatest legacy will no doubt be his influence that led to the founding of the ‘Woodland/Anishinaabe School of Art’ movement. This inspired many native artists. Sadly, Carl Ray unfortunately didn’t live to join Norval as a co-founder of that art movement.

During the early 1960’s to early 1970’s, I was in frequent mail and telephone contact with Norval and, to a lesser degree Harriet, his wife and became a confident of sorts. Our letters covered a considerable part of our relations during the time I was employed by the Department of Education. This correspondence also included other individuals and agencies that impacted on Norval’s art career. These letters led to the issue of a Canadian postal stamp depicting 'Virgin Mary with the Christ Child and St. John the Baptist'. Collating these letters brings out some hilarious situations that beg to be told in novel form to guard the reputation of the people involved.

But what does an author do with this material to portray Norval, and Carl as prime heroes or villains in such a novel. If a biographical approach is used, this wouldn’t present the ‘real’ Morrisseau and the book would be limited to library and art museum circulation. If the novel approach is used, it is possible to depict Norval as he was during the early years when he was developing as an artist and struggling for recognition. Norval set the stage for a unique writing approach when we were working together on the art circuit project. Whenever I had to bail him out of jail for alcoholic misdemeanours and might show a little annoyance for this inconvenience, he would try to humour me by saying something along the lines of, “My Thunder Bird ‘God’ told me that you are Satan’s acolyte and you have plans to capture my soul”. He would go on to claim, “You are exposing me to the temptation of ‘fire water’ to weaken my resolve like the ‘white eyes’ have done to my people for many moons”. He would continue with this humorous Hollywood monologue while I circled my forehead with my finger to indicate he was deranged. When he saw my annoyance was dissipating he would end by saying something like, “I’m not worried about your Satan because I’m the Shaman, Copper Thunder Bird and an acolyte of my Thunder Bird God. Jointly we will defeat you and your false God”. Although said in jest, I felt that Norval was a superstitious person and believed in the spirits of his people. Since he had invoked this charade, I went along with it hoping this I would provide a means to exert greater control over him during the art circuits and on our dealings. Melding into the role of Satan’s acolyte while Norval cast himself in the role of his Thunder Bird God’s acolyte became our main means of communication and became a hilarious exercise, but one that seemed to work and fit the ongoing situation with such an erratic character. Norval’s humour, personality and philosophy of life continued to shine though our long friendship when there were many hectic, and even dangerous, situations. There is a pool of information garnered though his contacts with some wonderful characters throughout Canada that would provide sufficient material for a number of novels. I think good writers with a sense of humour should take up this challenge and tap into the real and imaginary material that is available for the fast depleting generations that knew Norval and write such novels. I knew him in what I think was his most productive period. This was when he painted for his art goddess and not for his wallet. These were the years when his true primitive legends were painted.

Robert Lavack
Prague, Czech Republic
~ Currently residing in Malmö, Sweden (2018)


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* Edited for content by Ugo Matulić a.k.a. Spirit Walker


>>> Reference posts:
- THE MORRISSEAU PAPERS (Part I),
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THE MORRISSEAU PAPERS (Part II),
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Friends of Norval Morrisseau (Part III)
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- Robert Lavack and the Norval Morrisseau Postage Stamp /Revised/,
- The Morrisseau Legacy missing links (Part I),
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Mr. Robert Lavack's Open Letter to Spirit Walker,
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Correspondence between Norval Morrisseau and Mr. Robert Lavack (Part I),
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Norval Morrisseau Signature Study (Part III), - NO! NO! MORRISSEAU - Review of 'Christmas Letter to Norval Morrisseau' by Mr. Robert Lavack, - Refuting the defamation of character by Ritchie Sinclair a.k.a. Stardreamer (Part I), - Refuting the defamation of character by Ritchie Sinclair a.k.a. Stardreamer (Part II) & - The chronology of Ritchie 'Stardreamer' Sinclair's belligerent activities from 11/22/2007 to present.

*The painting in this post: "Joseph with Christ Child and St. John the Baptist", 40"x32", © 1973 Norval Morrisseau - Collection of Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, Ottawa. Image of this painting can be found on page 100 in "The Art of Norval Morrisseau" /Sinclair, Lister, Jack Pollock, and Norval Morrisseau/ -Toronto, Ontario: Methuen, 1979./