HOW THE NORVAL MORRISSEAU WAS SCULPTED?
"I am honouring his gift to the people of the world"
~ Susan Murar
The armature of the Norval Morrisseau portrait is almost completely-made of basketry which was wired together, plastered over, and painted to have a non-porous surface on which to attach the non-drying clay, plasticine, the colour of the clay antique white.
The eagle headdress is a basket in the shape of the horn of plenty which was wired and pulled into the shape of the eagle's beak and plastered before cutting the wire.
The wings are, each, one formed piece of styrofoam/insulation that are painted and an armature of wood under each wing was needed to support them for the application of clay, because they were too delicate.
Behind the portrait itself, the face, an old cooking pot made of aluminum was found, along with the baskets, at the Goodwill Store. Although this was functional as far as the round squatty shape, when I was putting it in place I thought that Norval would be amused at a cooking pot in his head, mildly symbolic and humorous although my intention was only practical.
The Shaman Staff is also made-two similar baskets that I found in two different towns, one in Shakespeare and the other in the Ten Thousand Villages store in New Hamburg-on sale. They were gifts to me because they worked so well with the shape of the Shaman Staff that I had designed. The same process of plastering and painting was used as the main part of the sculpture.
Most of the sculpture, excepting the face, is painted with acrylic antique white, the same colour as the clay. It firms the non-drying clay to the touch-and people want to touch it-and prevents dust from gripping onto the clay. Between 400 and 500 packages of one-dollar a package plasticine was used, purchased at the dollar store, I used what was close at hand, and through the years I have sculpted in white clay in my "Messages" series with salamanders and the human element as landscape because the highlights and lowlights can be so easily seen with the right lighting from many different angles, when each part is sculpted. In Morrisseau's paintings white as an indication of Spirit is also prevalent.
The wings were much bigger when they were first designed, and eventually I re-made them smaller so that they did not detract from the main portrait of Morrisseau. Also, I sculpted in the entire bottom portion of his self-portrait "Changing into Copper Thunderbird", but the design into sculpture translated from the painting did not work well size-wize for the sculpture, so it was scrapped.
The film about Morrisseau made while he was alive-he was extensively interviewed-by the National Film Board served me well as I was able to secure the DVD player next to the sculpted face and stop-action the film to study the structure of his face, so he sat for me essentially. When doing portraits however, after many months of research, I sculpt the age of the sitter "between young and old" and try to achieve an "interior look", the portrait speaks to the inner life, the inner man, the artist of "thought" and connections to his work, and his intentions and connections to the people of the earth with whom he lived his life, whether known or not, universally. What was he seeking and who was he really when all is said and done? Understanding this is my main purpose as an artist-to see beneath the surface and describe the spirit-presence and translate that into clay. I feel this has been done successfully with the portrait of Norval Mdrrisseau, it will speak to the ages, and people will see themselves in it and discover a link to this man who gave his great art to the world.
I should add that the positioning of the wings was extremely difficult, they had to be just right as far as balance of the design. The Shaman Staff also took quite a few steps, as in a dance, around the studio before finding its place. I worry now, before casting, that these positions will be exact in the final bronze.
To honour Norval Morrisseau, after designing the sculpture/portrait I studied his paintings extensively and used them in the sculpture in my bas-relief designs, therefore I have signed the sculpture at the back along with writing, in clay, the name Morrisseau. Almost everything in bas-relief has been studied from his paintings, there could be no other way, his work is just so powerful, "it had to be done". It speaks, and, it is silent, and it connects to a source that only he had access to and that we all desire. That is why his work is so important to humanity.
I worked on the base I built out of two-by-fours, the height I wanted him to be so that parents could hold her/his child in their arms and look into this great face. People visiting the studio like to stand directly in front of his gaze, and they are silent. There is a connection. I straddled the wooden base to sculpt, and also did a lot of work on ladders. About midpoint in this process I moved my studio and hired a crew from an auction house in Stratford to move the Morrisseau-I took off the wings, from the second storey three men, two behind and one in front started down a steep stairs with the Morrisseau at an impossible angle, bolted-no screwed down to the base. Midway, the screws gave way and the top of the base disconnected from the main sculpture and the sculpture tipped-and was possibly lost-as I watched from above. It is true when they say things go into slow motion in a disastrous situation. It fell and continued falling, face forward. Then-one inch of the top of the eagle headdress caught the overhanging protrusion of ceiling on the stair and stopped, resting there for rescue. A mad rush of getting longer screws and screwdrivers to the men, and the man at the bottom using his entire body to puch against the sculpture..... and the repairs, when it reached my new studio was a small glob of clay to fill the one-inch gap at the top of the eagle headdress. A miracle.
I am hoping that the mould needed to cast the Morrisseau can be made in my studio, because the piece is too big to leave through any door or window, it would have to be cut into pieces and although I know that is one of the processes used, I do not want that for the Morrisseau-it is too finely sculpted over these two years of work on the portrait.