Thursday, November 22, 2007

Norval Morrisseau & Harriet Kakegamic

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Norval Morrisseau and Harriet (Kakegamic), Beardmore, Ontario - 1962
/Click on image to Enlarge/
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In 1957 Morrisseau married Harriet Kakegamic (sister of Henry, Joshim and Goyce Kakegamic) who was from Sandy Lake Reserve northeast of Red Lake. They met in Fort William (now Thunder Bay) at the tuberculosis sanatorium while Morrisseau was receiving treatment. They arrived in Cochenour, Ontario in 1959 to work in the Cochenour-Willans gold mine. He was tall, slim and soft-spoken. His job in the mill was as a “flotation operator,” watching and adjusting a large vat of liquid gold ore and chemicals. This two-year span has been referred to as the longest period of steady employment Morrisseau experienced. Fellow employees recall Morrisseau painting during slack times on the job. The art, sometimes on mill filter paper, was left rolled in a corner of the mill when he had to attend to the flotation mix. Although lacking any formal art instruction, he had no inhibitions about how to paint. His early materials included birchbark, hide, plywood, building paper, fabric scraps - anything that was at hand. There was resistance to his art because he was breaking a taboo by depicting beliefs and traditions of the Ojibway culture but Morrisseau believed this task had been given to him in a vision and was sanctioned by his grandfather.

Harriet inspired him in his work and taught him Cree syllabics, a form of writing used commonly in the North and reflected in Morrisseau's own signature of his works. Teachings of his grandfather Potan, joined with a series of dreams and visions, became the muses that Morrisseau said called him to be an artist. "My paintings are icons, that is to say, they are images which help focus on spiritual powers, generated by traditional belief and vision." Upon recovery, Morrisseau traveled to visit many traditional Ojibway villages and petroglyph sites, to nourish his artistic development and put it on canvas.

Over the next decade there would be exhilarating peaks of fame and monetary reward followed by valleys of impoverishment and neglect of his family. In the midst of this, some saw evidence of a deep affection between husband and wife. Others saw a very unequal relationship which allowed one partner to pursue his destiny and the other to attempt to raise six children with minimal support. The children were born from 1957-1975 as the family moved between Beardmore, Cochenour, Sandy Lake, McKenzie Island and Red Lake. Morrisseau reportedly enjoyed children and one large portrait of his daughter, Victoria, with his first grandson (click HERE), conveys pride and love. An interesting paradox is that in his art children are shown richly-dressed with looks of wonder and contentment, while his own children experienced neglect and poverty.

* Today, Norval Morrisseau has 7 children by direct bloodline, 18 Grandchildren and 13 Great Grandchildren.
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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just noticed that Norval's wife's name was HArriet Kakegamic. I have an original work by Robert Kakegamic. How is he related to HArriet?
Helen Spenser

Anonymous said...

Roberts Kakegamic a brother to Harriet.

christian morrisseasu said...

Good day to you
Robert kakegamick is a distant cuzin to my mother her true brothers are
henry, goyce, josh, silas , howard
skip, kakegamic
Goyce is the only one painting these days
ojicreeart.com