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Norval Morrisseau (Copper Thunderbird)
Graveyard Scavenger, c. 1966
Acrylic on Kraft paper
35″ x 73″
University of Regina President’s Art Collection, Shumiatcher donation. Gift of Dr. Morris C. Shumiatcher, O.C., S.O.M., Q.C. and Dr. Jacqui Clay Shumiatcher, S.O.M., C.M., 2016; sc.2016.60
Norval Morrisseau (Copper Thunderbird) was born in Sand Point Reserve, Ontario. He was the founder of the Woodland School of Art and a prominent member of the Professional Native Indian Artists Inc, also known as the Indian Group of Seven. A Shaman, his paintings are often based on the symbolism and stories of the Anishinaabe First Nations of Northern Ontario. Although rooted in Anishinaabe traditions, Morrisseau’s work innovatively used contemporary mediums—namely acrylics— to depict them. In developing this singular style, his work gained instant critical praise from very the first exhibition of his paintings in 1962.
Graveyard Scavenger was reproduced in the Winnipeg Free Press (September 27, 1966) to accompany a news report announcing Morrisseau’s selection as an artist for the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal, for which he produced a large mural.
Graveyard Scavenger features a powerful creature with a spiked spine, horns, fearsome teeth and a long, forked tongue. The creature bears hallmarks of Mishipashoo, a feline water spirit known to the Ojibwe Anishinaabe, who can be seen in the petroglyphs of Agara Bay. Travellers would make offerings to the spirit to appease it before crossing the water. A Mishipashoo appeared to Morrisseau in a dream he described as “a religious experience”. He would return to the subject throughout the sixties and seventies, using the descriptors Devourer of Human Flesh by Rot and Decay, and Death Devourer of Human Flesh for subsequent paintings.