Morrison: Biography

For immediate release

Release dated: 
November 6, 2014
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen • Marketing and Communications • 651-259-3148 •

Megan Lawson • Marketing and Communications • 651-259-3141 •

Wendy Jones • Minnesota History Center • 651-259-3411 •

Morrison: Biography

“Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison” at the Minnesota History Center, Feb. 14 – April 26, 2015

This exhibition celebrates the creative achievements of George Morrison (1919–2000), a distinguished modernist whose work can be found in numerous public and private collections throughout the United States and abroad.

Featuring nearly 80 pieces from Morrison’s long career, this retrospective includes his early paintings and drawings from the 1940s; his abstract expressionist work of the 1950s and ’60s; his monumental wood collages and sculptures from the 1960s and ’70s; and his small, vibrant acrylics and works on paper from the 1980s and ’90s. The show also documents Morrison’s journey from his rural origins to international acclaim and back again in a remarkable story about expatriation and homecoming and the significance of place that is embedded in everything he envisioned and made.

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.