Mythologizing Norval Morrisseau

Art and the Colonial Narrative in the Canadian Media


Mythologizing Norval Morrisseau examines the complex identities assigned to Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau. Was he an uneducated artist plagued by alcoholism and homelessness? Was Morrisseau a shaman artist who tapped a deep spiritual force? Or was he simply one of Canada’s most significant artists?

Carmen L. Robertson charts both the colonial attitudes and the stereotypes directed at Morrisseau and other Indigenous artists in Canada’s national press. Robertson also examines Morrisseau’s own shaping of his image. An internationally known and award-winning artist from a remote area of northwestern Ontario, Morrisseau founded an art movement known as Woodland Art developed largely from Indigenous and personal creative elements. Still, until his retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 2006, many Canadians knew almost nothing about Morrisseau’s work.

Using discourse analysis methods, Robertson looks at news stories, magazine articles, and film footage, ranging from Morrisseau’s first solo exhibition at Toronto’s Pollock Gallery in 1962 until his death in 2007 to examine the cultural assumptions that have framed Morrisseau.


“Morrisseau is a towering figure in the contemporary Canadian art world, a creative master, mentor, and visionary whose life and works will be discussed and debated for years to come. Carmen Robertson’s research and analysis of the uneasy relationship between the artist and the media is a welcome addition to a growing body of literature, not only on Morrisseau, but on the nature of contemporary Canadian culture and the difficulties faced by Aboriginal peoples attempting to define and affirm an identity within it.”

Allan Ryan, Canadian Studies / Art History, Carleton University

“Impressively researched, exceptionally well written and documented, informatively and accessibly organized and presented, Mythologizing Norval Morrisseau is an outstanding work of seminal scholarship.”

John Taylor, MBR Bookwatch

About the Author

Carmen Robertson is a Scots Lakota woman with two daughters from in and around the Qu’Appelle Valley in Saskatchewan. She is also an Indigenous Art Historian and the Canada Research Chair in North American Indigenous Art and Material Culture at Carleton University.

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Mythmaking and Primitivism
Ch. 2 Morrisseau’s 1962 Arrival
Ch. 3 1970s: The Shaman Arrives
Ch. 4 1980s: An Unruly International Art Star
Ch. 5 2006: Re-Mythologizing Mishomis

University of Manitoba Press is grateful for the support it receives for its publishing program from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund; the Canada Council for the Arts; the Manitoba Department of Culture, Heritage, and Tourism; the Manitoba Arts Council; and the Aid to Scholarly Publishing Programme.