Written by Alli Hames
Sit down and I will tell you a tale. About a painting, a man, and his friends.
As told to us by the client who owned the painting “The Young Thunderbird”.
The Young Thunderbird
It was early 1970’s and I was living in the Beaches in Toronto. It was a time that anything was possible and everything seemed accessible.
One of my close friends was a relative of an art gallery owner – Jack Pollack. Jack and his partner were both bohemian as well as sophisticated – at least in the eyes of this country girl. Jack represented an artist named Norval Morrisseau.
I met Norval at a cocktail party held at Jack’s home. Norval did not have a good capacity for alcohol and at this event he was not only obnoxious but was obviously very intimidated by the group that had gathered to meet him. I, for whatever reason, was not impressed – after all he was Ojib and I was Cree.
We talked and somehow or other Norval showed up at my home a few weeks later. The deal was that he could stay if he was sober – or sobering up. He adopted the couch. I was working in a hospital and worked regular hours – never knowing if I was going to have a ‘room mate’ or if he disappeared again. Norval would go for months at a time – never giving me a warning and then just show up and be sitting on my couch waiting for dinner.
One day I arrived home to find out that Norval had made paper in my kitchen sink and it was not only horribly backed up – but the smell was overwhelming. I was instructed to find a piece of board to press the paper and a few rocks or bricks. That night my kitchen looked more like a construction site than a place for prepared food.
I got up and went to work. Norval was gone – but told me not to move the board, bricks or paper.
He returned a week or so later with some painting gear and set to work.
Norval told me that the Thunderbird was a dream he had while at my house and he thought I should have it.
We kept in touch for about ten years and then he returned to the reserve and we lost contact.
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Did you know Steffich Fine Art has a “thing” for the Shamanic Art of Norval Morrisseau? I did, but until today I never knew why.
If you look around our gallery you will see a little bit of Norval everywhere, he is omnipresent, in fact he is our most requested artist. Despite this, I had never heard the story behind our gallery’s Morrisseau obsession.