Life Story, Art History: 15 Works by Chippewa Artist George Morrison

Life Story, Art History: 15 Works by Chippewa Artist George Morrison


This evening, at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, curator Jackson Rushing III will present "Return of the Native Son: George Morrison's Artistic Journey." The event is free, and is connected to the exhibit Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison, which is currently showing at NMAI.

Morrison, Chippewa, is an interesting figure in the story of Native American art as well as the story of contemporary art of the 20th century. Born in 1919 in a Minnesota fishing village near Lake Superior, on the Grand Portage Reservation, Morrison grew up speaking only the Chippewa language (Anishinaabemowin) until he was six. He graduated from the Minneapolis School of Art in 1943, then packed his bags for New York City, where he studied at the Art Students League. In New York, he became part of the Abstract Expressionist movement, and a friend of Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning. A Fulbright scholarship would later enable him to spend a fertile period in Paris and the south of France. He went on to teach art at numerous institutions, including Cornell, Penn State, and the Rhode Island School of Design. By any standard, Morrison was a significant 20th-century artist whose body of work is a microcosm of the story of painting and art since World War II until his death in 2000.

Yet he never forgot his Native American upbringing, and felt the pull of home; in 1970 he returned to Minnesota to teach art and Native American History at the University of Minnesota. He lived in St. Paul, but established a studio he called Red Rock on the Grand Portage Reservation, and after retiring from teaching in 1983 he made Red Rock his home. When the National Museum of the American Indian opened its doors in 2004, Morrison's work was featured alongside that of another internationally-acclaimed Native American Modernist, Apache sculptor Allan Houser.

“I have never tried to prove I was Indian through my art ... Yet, there may remain deeply hidden some remote suggestion of the rock where I was hewn, the preoccupation of the textural surface, the mystery of the structural and organizational element, the enigma of the horizon, or the color of the wind.”  
--George Morrison

For a far more detailed account of the many stages of Morrison's life and career, visit the official site Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison

Modern Spirit is a traveling exhibition that represents a collaboration among the Minnesota Museum of American ArtArts Midwest, and the Plains Art Museum. The exhibit finishes its run in New York City on February 23, after which is will be hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, in Indianapolis (March 29–September 14), the Heard Museum, in Phoenix (October 23, 2014–January 12, 2015), and the Minnesota History Center, in St. Paul (February 14–April 26, 2015). 

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