A 21stCentury Guide to the Woodland Art Movement
R.R. Sinclair © 1999/2006
The Golden Eagle is the traditional master of Ontario's skies. Unfortunately, the Golden Eagle is now listed in Ontario as an endangered species. Like the hunted Eagle, the extinction, or near extinction, of Canadian tribes has resulted in lost art, language and culture. The Canadian Government, and the Christian Missions of Morrisseau's early years, seemed intent on snuffing out what little remained of the Great Ojibway culture by providing mandatory boarding schools with forced indoctrination.
Morrisseau was one who found a way to assimilate European culture and religion, rather than be assimilated by it. Within his aboriginal vision, he included the mythic revelations of humanity. Like the Golden Eagle, he saw the inclusive whole, and pleasured in it. Stroke by stroke, with heroic nobility, he shared this inclusive vision with his people, and they too began to spread their wings and to creatively fly.
The Golden Eagle, soaring high above its domain, symbolizes the position Woodland Artists take in creating their art. They are each, in their own right, intuitive conduits who envision the matrix of life intertwined, as if seen from above. It is also a sacred place reserved for the considerate collector of Woodland Gold who appreciates his growing role as both visionary and storyteller.
Traditionally, to be given a feather from a Golden Eagle is the highest tribute one can receive. It must be given only to those who have earned it, and it must never be taken by force. So it is with Woodland Gold. In order to enjoy its many benefits, both artists and collectors must earn their way into this empowering vision. Collectors will seek out personal information about the Artists, their whereabouts, projects and paintings and they will have a sense of the breadth and depth of the movement.
To many Woodland Artists and connoisseurs of Woodland Gold, life becomes the "art of living in the centre of the universe". Why is this so? It is simply because Woodland Art, at its best, depicts humanity's collective culture firmly rooted in creation's nature, in the here and now. Isn't that all we really want; to rejoin the totality of Mother Nature's flow instead of having to protect ourselves from its ravages? It is said that wherever the apocalyptic Tsunami of December 26, 2004 struck land, the native animal life had long since retreated to high ground. Are we, the people, not privy to the same insight? The Golden Eagle does not live in the memory of the past, nor in hope for the future, but instead chooses to live in the fulfillment of the present.
The Master and founder of the Woodland School will never paint again. While still mentally alert, Norval Morrisseau, a.k.a. Copper Thunderbird, has succumbed to the debilitation of Parkinson's disease.
On September 28, 1997, on the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Collection, Morrisseau performed the Beardance rite of renewal and regeneration. In the ceremony he passed on responsibility to his long-time protégé, Ritchie Sinclair, a.k.a. Stardreamer. In ill health, Morrisseau traveled thousands of miles by van from the Canadian West Coast to Toronto in order to safeguard the ceremonial items he planned to use. Among other things, the ceremony required that Morrisseau, acting as the Grand Shaman of the Great Ojibway, perform the song of the Beardance. Morrisseau, for his first, and only time, sang the sacred song and sounded the drum in public. Stardreamer, dancing in the guise of the Grizzly, received the rod of Shamanistic initiation. As he donned the headdress of the Shaman, crowds of people that gathered to watch the ceremony were astonished to look up to the sky above where they witnessed six hawks glistening in the sun as they too danced in spiraled patterns of perfection.
Stardreamer is responsible for the continued development of both the Woodland and the Thunderbird Schools. He is, and needs to be, more than a successful painter in order to best serve the needs of the movement. As such, Stardreamer is also an accomplished webmaster with branding and web design credits that include many of the world's most valuable domain names. He has now turned his attention to developing two major websites to facilitate Woodland Gold. One website, "GreatSpirit.ca", slated to launch November 2007, will bring Woodland Artists together with one another and collectors, in a community setting. It will facilitate all aspects of the Woodland Art movement. The other website, "Morrisseau.com", will focus specifically on Morrisseau, his work and his legacy.
The world wide web is like a Golden pond in its attempt to reflect civilization completely. The "web of life" and this new "web of light" are all inclusive and interconnected. Potentially, the vibration from a single nugget of Woodland Gold thrown into the pond could ripple out to touch the whole world with inspiration and insight. The internet brings the human kingdom together in a new and profound manner, and we are barely at the gateway to experiencing its wonders.
Morrisseau, Sinclair and fellow Thunderbird School artist, Brian Marion, continue to envision and plan for the emergence of an exoteric "Thunderbird School of Shamanistic Arts", established to benefit 21st Century humanity. The Internet affords real communication in a virtual environment where one may explore any facet of existence, through human eyes, in all its glory and gruesomeness. On wings of electricity one may join forces with others, and communicate information to and fro, by means of sound and song, light and image.
What Nostradamus is to first world populations, the Seven Fires Prophecies are to North America's First Nations people. The prophecies appear to be a 12,000+ year record of aboriginal history, culminating with the advent of the Internet and a rebirth of inclusive human community.
The sacred Migiis shells (cypraea moneta) used by the Midewiwin (Medicine) Society actually originate in the South Pacific, not North America as many believe. The First Prophecy (or Fire) prepares the Anishinabe (The People) for an Exodus out of their original land. The prophet asks them to carry Migiis shells to help then remember where they came from. By the time of the Second Fire the People have lost their way.
The Wabeno (Visionary) Society, or "men of the dawn sky", manipulate fire in order to interpret visions. Wabenos believe that the Seven Fires recounts the memory of a socially advanced, prehistoric community. An ancient island civilization, under natural threat. The People are told to remember their land, yet over time they forget, as they migrate north for generations. The Seven Fires Prophecies are finally fulfilled with the lighting of the Eighth and final Fire, an eternal fire of peace, love and inspired community.
As it states in the Seven Fires Prophecies, "If the New People will remain strong in their quest the Water Drum of the Midewiwin Lodge will again sound its voice. There will be a rebirth of the Anishinabe Nation and a rekindling of old flames. The Sacred Fire will again be lit."
The Water drum, symbolizes (comm)unity. The prophecies speak of a return to community, at a higher turn of the Spiral, where each individual is connected to, and affected by, the actions of everyone else. The prophecies recollect community and the impulse to beat the drum together. They proclaim that once again the health of civilization is in the hands of the people. We have arrived and we have returned to the Golden pond.
Without physical impediments to inhibit development, spontaneous "spirit igniting" contact between individuals will occur. We are beyond the threshold. Masses will rally. Real change in any spiritual, informational, social, financial or ecological arena is now possible, The combustible power of community requires fuel (substance) to burn bright. The Shamanistic arts "sub-stand" society. Woodland School artists provide eye candy and food for thought to the new global village. With hundreds of artists spread over three generations, it is an unstoppable creative movement, in an age where movement is inevitable.
To speculators the question has always been, "Is there Gold in them there hills?" The phrase may even originate from the last American Gold Rush that was orchestrated by the American Government in order to root out the remaining free Native Americans, led by Supreme Chief, "Sitting Bull". Prospectors by the tens of thousands were misled into the Black Hills of Dakota by none other than General George Custer. In prime BreX fashion he produced nuggets of gold to foundation his claim that "It has not required an expert to find gold in the Black Hills." Within a year the Americans controlled the last sacred sanctuary of Sioux culture.
Custer wasn't after gold. He wanted victory over Indians and political power. He used a fabrication and gold to incite others to do his dirty work for him. Saturated in false confidence he attacked Little Big Horn. We all know what happened to him and those who blindly followed him. Gold enamours. Gold's lustre can blind. Like the biblical story of the "Golden Calf", don't get lost in the "art of the material". Find the "material in the art". Discover what really matters to Woodland artists, and why. Learn to respect and value inspirational power over material.
The paintings of the Woodland School Artists are part tarot card and part talisman. They connect one sphere of activity or consciousness with another, and empower those who can see with insight. There are also those who choose to remain ignorant, focusing instead on the material aspects of the art alone. To covet such objects of art, yet ignore the subject matter that the art seeks to communicate, is not a healthy course of action.
Artists, dealers, collectors and fans alike should be aware that "art" is just a word but "Shamanistic art" is a force, carrying one or more energies into manifestation. It will have an impact and an effect that is as sure as the law of cause and effect. To bottle Spirit is like corralling a wild stallion. If you break his Spirit, you have only a bitter racehorse and a chance at a few bucks. If you set him free, you'll find loyal friendships in both the Great Spirit and the Wild Stallion. What would you rather have at the end?
To be safe, don't spit on Spirit by hoarding, hoaxing, forging or fooling with nature's way. Let the river of Spirit flow naturally. Don't dam(n) it with false experts and legacy builders with one goal in mind - the monetization of the remaining Morrisseaus. Collect your artworks from the movement as a whole, following love to decide on which acquisitions to purchase. One day they will all increase in value, not just the Morrisseaus. If you own a great artwork, share it. Lend it to schools, bring it to functions and sit it on the stage.
In 1986, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa placed Stardreamer's painting, "Lighthouse", on the stage at a candle bearer gathering of thousands, who then proceeded to surround the painting with hundreds of candles. On the same Canadian tour, an audience of churchgoers at St. Paul's cathedral watched the sun peek through the clouds and fall on the painting just as the Archbishop spoke of it. When he finished his speech the sun receded behind the clouds once again. You never know what wondrous things will happen when you share. Don't hide what you love in a closet. The inspirational power of your artwork will reflect back on you positively.
In business, the phrase, "Gold Standard", brings to mind a monetary construct where currency is exchangeable for a specified amount of gold. In the arts, "the Gold Standard", invites one to envision a peerless example of excellence in a specified field of expression. To the Woodland "school" and its artists, Morrisseau is the gold standard. There has never been any doubt. Artwork, however, is another story.
Morrisseau was such a prolific artist, and so expressive of the energy of the moment, that there is a great disparity between effort, quality and clarity in his artworks. Other Woodland artists, such as the Picasso-esque, "Daphne Odjig", the meticulous, "Carl Ray", and the inspirational, "Roy Thomas", have produced wonderful pieces that often eclipse Morrisseau prices. Rare works produced during brief careers, such as "Benjamin Chee Chee" and "Jackson Beardy's" elegant and much loved art, will always be sought after and extremely valuable. The astonishing stone and ivory sculptures created by "Joe Jacobs" are many times the price of a Morrisseau. However, to the aforementioned artists, and to many others, Morrisseau is the paragon (though not necessarily of virtue). No Woodland Artist would pretend to eclipse him.
Gold has always been a valuable metal, however fashioned or used. Wherever it is found, civilization develops. Canada's Yukon Territory was developed as a result of a gold rush that started in 1897. It was also the same year that Japan adopted the gold standard and enacted a coinage law, which valued one yen at 0.75 gram of gold. How many yen do you think it takes to buy a gram of gold today? Believe it or not, gold is scarce because it is so beautifully useful.
Since 1971, the gold standard no longer applies to anyone anywhere. The window has closed. Gold is so precious that, in its place, we use paper money, symbolic of real gold yet non redeemable. So sought after was gold during the Middle Ages that a science called "alchemy" evolved as a way to try to artificially create it. Whether or not the alchemists succeeded, they certainly intrigued the world by their efforts to do so.
Woodland Gold is essentially "paper money" and a "true" global currency. It is also a divine form of alchemy that allows any practitioner of the school, at any time, to produce "true" (Woodland) gold. They have only to be convinced of the sacred cause of their moment in the sun when they are called to respond with impeccable skill under the direction of Spirit. To Spirit they are responsive. In Morrisseau, they see the example, and are convinced.
The work of the Woodland Artist, like gold, is malleable to any situation or need. The work of the Woodland Artist, like gold, is useful and dynamic in application. The work of the Woodland Artist, like gold, is inspirationally beautiful. It adorns wherever it is found. The work of the Woodland Artist, like gold, grows in value. Woodland Art is an invaluable experience in Spirit. When the world at large finds out, it will be scarce.
Defined as the middle between two extremes; the one of excess and the other of deficiency, the "Golden Mean" describes the life and times of Norval Morrisseau to a tee.
Aestheticly considered, the Golden Mean is an attribute of beauty, displaying symmetry, proportion, and harmony. Picture it as a rectangle comprised of two parts. When the rectangle is cut into a square it leaves a smaller similarly shaped rectangle. The two parts are opposites joined in harmonious proportion. The unification of opposites in the creative energy of organic growth scientists call "Dinergy". This pattern-forming process, displayed throughout nature, is essential to understanding Morrisseau and the dynamics of his work.
Norval Morrisseau was born under the astrological sign of Pisces; an ancient symbol of duality. Morrisseau defined his complex character as two separate individuals in relation to one another. The greater part, he called "The Shaman" (Copper Thunderbird). The lesser part he named "poor Norval". He believes that a small section of the greater part inspires, strengthens and directs the lesser part. Similarly a small section of the lesser part aspires to the greater. Each part depends on the other. Poor Norval needs spiritual power, while the Shaman requires access to humankind. In the life and work of Morrisseau the pattern repeats infinitely and extends from the universal to minutiae.
In the practice of creating art, the interaction between these two opposing energies as they coalesce produces the mosaic patterns evidenced in Morrisseau's awe-inspiring masterpieces. Every colour used in a Morrisseau artwork demands, and receives, its opposite. Pairs of opposite colours harmonize with other pairs of opposites to radiate multi-dimensional power. The mathematical equation of the Golden Mean produces a spiral wave form that is the visual expression of the primal force of evolution (i.e. life). This secret to his mastery of colour is one not easily reproduced. One must live it.
To Woodland Artists he has always advised that, "whatever the circumstances life presents, 'Just Paint' and know that all is well".
To those that do not paint, he suggests,
From February 3 to April 30, 2006, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa held a major exhibition that spans Morrisseau's fifty year career. The exhibition is a chronological retrospective that includes early scrapings, paintings on birch bark, plywood and canvass. Some of the works, from public, private and the National Gallery collections have never been exhibited before. It is the first time due recognition has been bestowed upon Morrisseau by the Canadian art establishment. It's a shame that he no longer has the ability to speak for himself publicly, but it's wonderful that Canadians and tourists now have an opportunity to really feel the magic of Morrisseau. The exhibition will tour major Canadian and International galleries for three years. Don't miss it. It will be an unforgettable experience.
There are now many voices that pretend to speak for Morrisseau. The Seven Scrolls that comprise this guidebook were written by a person Morrisseau knew would protect and nurture the art form, the artists, the artistic movement and ultimately, the legacy of his life-long efforts on behalf of Spirit.
May the blessings of the great creative spirit shine upon you, and may the art of the sacred transform you, keeping you safe, sure and strong.
© 1999 / 2006 Stardreamer All rights reserved.