The armature of the
Norval Morrisseau portrait is almost completely-made of basketry which
was wired together, plastered over, and painted to have a non-porous
surface on which to attach the non-drying clay, plasticine, the colour
of the clay antique white.
The eagle headdress is a basket in the
shape of the horn of plenty which was wired and pulled into the shape of
the eagle's beak and plastered before cutting the wire.
The wings are, each, one formed piece of styrofoam/insulation that are
painted and an armature of wood under each wing was needed to support
them for the application of clay, because they were too delicate.
Behind the portrait itself, the face, an old cooking pot made of
aluminum was found, along with the baskets, at the Goodwill Store.
Although this was functional as far as the round squatty shape, when I
was putting it in place I thought that Norval would be amused at a
cooking pot in his head, mildly symbolic and humorous although my
intention was only practical.
The Shaman Staff is also made-two similar
baskets that I found in two different towns, one in Shakespeare and the
other in the Ten Thousand Villages store in New Hamburg-on sale. They
were gifts to me because they worked so well with the shape of the
Shaman Staff that I had designed. The same process of plastering and
painting was used as the main part of the sculpture.
Most of the sculpture, excepting the face, is painted with acrylic
antique white, the same colour as the clay. It firms the non-drying clay
to the touch-and people want to touch it-and prevents dust from gripping
onto the clay. Between 400 and 500 packages of one-dollar a package
plasticine was used, purchased at the dollar store, I used what was
close at hand, and through the years I have sculpted in white clay in my
"Messages" series with salamanders and the human element as landscape
because the highlights and lowlights can be so easily seen with the
right lighting from many different angles, when each part is sculpted.
In Morrisseau's paintings white as an indication of Spirit is also
The wings were much bigger when they were
first designed, and eventually I re-made them smaller so that they did
not detract from the main portrait of Morrisseau. Also, I sculpted in
the entire bottom portion of his self-portrait "Changing into Copper
Thunderbird", but the design into sculpture translated from the painting
did not work well size-wize for the sculpture, so it was scrapped.
The film about Morrisseau made while he was alive-he was extensively
interviewed-by the National Film Board served me well as I was able to
secure the DVD player next to the sculpted face and stop-action the film
to study the structure of his face, so he sat for me essentially. When
doing portraits however, after many months of research, I sculpt the age
of the sitter "between young and old" and try to achieve an "interior
look", the portrait speaks to the inner life, the inner man, the artist
of "thought" and connections to his work, and his intentions and
connections to the people of the earth with whom he lived his life,
whether known or not, universally. What was he seeking and who was he
really when all is said and done? Understanding this is my main purpose
as an artist-to see beneath the surface and describe the spirit-presence
and translate that into clay. I feel this has been done successfully
with the portrait of Norval Mdrrisseau, it will speak to the ages, and
people will see themselves in it and discover a link to this man who
gave his great art to the world.
I should add that the positioning of the wings was extremely difficult,
they had to be just right as far as balance of the design. The Shaman
Staff also took quite a few steps, as in a dance, around the studio
before finding its place. I worry now, before casting, that these
positions will be exact in the final bronze.
honour Norval Morrisseau, after designing the sculpture/portrait I
studied his paintings extensively and used them in the sculpture in my
bas-relief designs, therefore I have signed the sculpture at the back
along with writing, in clay, the name Morrisseau. Almost everything in
bas-relief has been studied from his paintings, there could be no other
way, his work is just so powerful, "it had to be done". It speaks, and,
it is silent, and it connects to a source that only he had access to and
that we all desire. That is why his work is so important to humanity.
worked on the base I built out of two-by-fours, the height I wanted him
to be so that parents could hold her/his child in their arms and look
into this great face. People visiting the studio like to stand directly
in front of his gaze, and they are silent. There is a connection. I
straddled the wooden base to sculpt, and also did a lot of work on
ladders. About midpoint in this process I moved my studio and hired a
crew from an auction house in Stratford to move the Morrisseau-I took
off the wings, from the second storey three men, two behind and one in
front started down a steep stairs with the Morrisseau at an impossible
angle, bolted-no screwed down to the base. Midway, the screws gave way
and the top of the base disconnected from the main sculpture and the
sculpture tipped-and was possibly lost-as I watched from above. It is
true when they say things go into slow motion in a disastrous situation.
It fell and continued falling, face forward. Then-one inch of the top of
the eagle headdress caught the overhanging protrusion of ceiling on the
stair and stopped, resting there for rescue. A mad rush of getting
longer screws and screwdrivers to the men, and the man at the bottom
using his entire body to puch against the sculpture..... and the
repairs, when it reached my new studio was a small glob of clay to fill
the one-inch gap at the top of the eagle headdress. A miracle.
I am hoping that the mould needed to cast the Morrisseau can be made in
my studio, because the piece is too big to leave through any door or
window, it would have to be cut into pieces and although I know that is
one of the processes used, I do not want that for the Morrisseau-it is
too finely sculpted over these two years of work on the portrait.
Susan Murar, Sculptor -
BA, MFA, AOCAD
-"Woman with Courage"