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Woodland Painting Workshop

Woodland Painting Workshop and Norval Morriseau

Moses Lunham art
Moses Lunham art at Pow Wow Sept 2014

Woodland Style painting was invented by Norval Morrisseau (Copper Thunderbird), an Ojibway artist from the Sandy Point Reserve, near Beardmore, Ontario. He was born March 14, 1932 and died in Toronto, December 4, 2007. One of Canada’s most well known Aboriginal artists, he left behind thousands of paintings and a whole new art form that has influenced three generations of artists.

Morrisseau was the eldest of seven children and was raised by his maternal grandparents. His grandfather was a shaman, and taught Morrisseau all the customs and traditions of his position. As an adult, Morrisseau would follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and become a shaman himself. He began to develop his art technique in the late 1950s while working as a miner. By the early 1960s, he was working as a full time artist and has received Canadian and International recognition and awards for his work.

His grandfather’s teachings heavily influenced Morrisseau’s art. In fact, he is the first Ojibway artist to transform Ojibway oral and spiritual culture into visual art. His work draws on symbols from Anishinaabe decorative arts and Midewiwin birchbark scrolls. His subject matter explores Anishinaabe culture, the importance of family, the connections between all living things, and the tensions between Christianity and Shamanism.

Woodland Painting Workshop 2
Woodland Painting Workshop

Woodland style painting is characterized by bright colours, bold outlines, spirit lines, abstract forms, and nature subjects. This school of painting began with Morrisseau, but became more established as other artists began to follow in his footsteps. The style follows ancient traditions and uses popular subjects of bears, large cats, snakes and birds. Lines can symbolize movement, communication, power or prophecy. Split circles represent duality in nature, while x-ray views represent the subject’s inner spirit. Common images include transformations or communication between men and animals.

Other artists who work in woodland style include Mark A. Jacobson, Roy Thomas, and local artists Jeremiah Mason, Clayton King, and Moses Lunham.

Woodland Painting Workshop
Woodland Painting Workshop

MOA’s Woodland painting workshop (as part of our Educational Programming) has students use the five main characteristics mentioned above to create their own woodland paintings. They are given a description of each characteristic to ensure they understand what each one means. Each table has an example of a woodland art work but we encourage students to make whatever they want. For those who have trouble starting, we explain that many woodland artists don’t use rough drafts, as they prefer to paint what comes to mind. Some of the paintings the students create are amazing pieces of art, and for all, are great souvenirs from their learning experience at MOA.

– Written by Vasanthi Pendakur, MOA Educational Assistant 2014/2015.


“Norval (called Copper Thunderbird) Morriseau.” National Gallery of Canada.

“Woodland Art.” Native Art in Canada.

“Order of Canada, Norval Morriseau, C.M.” The Governor General of Canada.

“Morrisseau experts hunt for up to 10,000 pieces.” Ottawa Citizen January 2, 2007.

Kennedy, Randy. “Norval Morrisseau, was native artist of Canada.” The Boston Globe.


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