The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth

Volume 22 • Number 1 • Winter 2005


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George Morrison's "Witch Tree Variation," (above) 1988, crayon, colored pencil, ink on paper, and
"Naidaes," (bottom of article) 1958, oil on canvas, are two of the pieces on loan to the Smithsonian

            When the National Museum of the American Indian opened in Washington, D.C. this past September, it honored George Morrison (1919-2000), a member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Eleven pieces of Morrison' work have been loaned by UMD's Tweed Museum of Art for the year-long Smithsonian exhibition.

            Morrison, an abstract painter and artist recognized around the world for his extraordinary talent and vision, is featured at the museum in a joint exhibition with Native American sculptor Alan Houser, (1914-1994, Chiricahua Apache).

            Called, "Native Modernism," the exhibition features Morrison and Houser, both prominent 20th-century Native artists. The exhibition is a retrospective showcasing about 100 of Morrison's mostly abstract paintings, drawings, sculptures and wood collages with a similar number of works by Houser.

            Many Minnesota museums and collectors have joined the UMD Tweed Museum in loaning art to the show, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and St. Paul's Minnesota Museum of American Art. The art spans Morrison's career beginning in the 1950s with abstract drawings, to puzzle-like wood colleges assembled in the 1970s, carved totems from his 1980s work and his more recent Lake Superior "Horizon" paintings.

            Morrison painted Lake Superior at different times of day in all seasons and types of weather. He captured its many moods and spiritual qualities. He said the lake was "a very powerful thing that changes by the hour, like a living human being."

            Morrison is one of the most recognized and influential contemporary artists from Minnesota. "The Tweed Museum has one of the largest collections of Morrison's work in the country," said curator Peter Spooner. "Morrison had a special relationship to the Tweed. He donated a number of pieces to us and considered the Tweed his own regional museum. He felt strongly about having a representation of his work close to his home. The museum is frequently contacted to supply Morrison's work for exhibitions and we are proud to loan this group of 11 works to Smithsonian."

            The new National Museum of the American Indian strives for balance. It's exhibitions demonstrate the rich history and culture of the first Americans. It also showcases contemporary native art and respects the fact that 30 to 40 million native people now live in the Western Hemisphere.

            The five-story museum took the last remaining spot on the grassy National Mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument -- a four-acre site at the foot of Capitol Hill. It is the first new museum on the Mall since 1987 and expects 5 million visitors a year. Exhibitions will include ancient artifacts, such as a 2,000-year-old ceramic jaguar clutching a man between its paws, as well as works from modern Indian artists.The museum also will regularly host storytelling, music and dance sessions by American Indians and will eventually attempt to reach out to those who can't physically visit the museum through an interactive Web site.


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