Most Native people believe that art of all kinds is indispensable to Native economic development and retention of cultures and languages. Several are featured here.
Born in Minnesota in 1919 in an Indian fishing village near Lake Superior, George Morrison spoke only Ojibwe (Anishinaabemowin) until the age of six, when he started using English in grade school. After graduating from Grand Marais High School and the Minneapolis School of Art (1938–43), Morrison received a scholarship to study in New York City at the Art Students League (1943–46).
While in New York, he befriended such abstract expressionists as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, regularly participated in group exhibitions with them, and had 12 one-person shows of his own between 1948 and 1960. He also obtained a Fulbright Fellowship (1952–53) to work in France, and eventually secured two important teaching positions: at the Rhode Island School of Design (1963–70), where he became an associate professor of art, and at the University of Minnesota (1970–83), where he taught studio art and American Indian studies.
Despite numerous health problems Morrison continued to be prolific during the 1980s and ’90s. One of his large pieces was exhibited in the Jacqueline Kennedy Sculpture Garden at the White House in 1998. He retired from teaching in 1983 and began living permanently at a home he called Red Rock on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation along the shores of Lake Superior. By the early 1990s, he was recognized by a younger generation of Indian artists as a founder of Native modernism, aided by a one-person exhibition at the Minnesota Museum of Art in St. Paul in 1990. In 1999 Morrison was named Distinguished Artist in the Eiteljorg Museum Fellowship for Native American Fine Art. Four years after Morrison’s death in 2000, his work was celebrated in a two-person show with Allan Houser that helped inaugurate the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., in September 2004.
In his art, Morrison drew inspiration from the natural world and mixed impressionism with expressionism, cubism with surrealism, and abstraction with representation to produce sensuous works that explore form, color and texture. His award-winning collages, which he meticulously constructed from found and imported woods, and his monumental totems were unique contributions to 20th-century modernism and are widely collected.
Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew was a theorist, curator, writer, new media practitioner and performance artist. He worked in artist run centres in Vancouver, Regina and Winnipeg curating and producing new practices in performance and new media. Ahasiw passed away in 2006.
Among the first Aboriginal artists in Canada working in New Media and Net Art Maskegon-Iskwew’s work as a curator, producer and writer laid important groundwork for Aboriginal artists in these fields and is an important voice in the development of these medias within the Aboriginal communities.
Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew was Cree/French Metis born in McLennan, Alberta in 1958. He graduated in performance art and installation from Emily Carr College of Art and Design, Vancouver, British Columbia in 1985. He was Director, Exhibition and Performance Coordinator, and Board Member for the Pitt Gallery in Vancouver (1988-1990) and worked as Adult Education Instructor for the Native Education Centre in Vancouver teaching Contemporary Native Cultural Studies, College Preparation English, and Native Studies (1990-1991).