The “Magic” of Morrison


“Lake Superior Landscape” by George Morrison

That’s how one of his friends and fans describes the nature of his work: “magic.”

I happened upon a room of George Morrison’s art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) last spring. I liked what I saw. I really liked what I saw. But I like it even more now that I know more about the man and the story behind it.

Among our local public television station’s online archives is a special documentary on Morrison: “The Art and Life of George Morrison: A ‘Beyond the Book’ Special.” Born out of the award-winning book Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison by W. Jackson Rushing III and Kristin Makholm, and a collaboration between the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library and TPT Twin Cities PBS, the program does an excellent and elegant job of describing Morrison’s life and legacy. Here’s what I learned:

How it began – As a young boy, Morrison became very ill at age 8, even to the point of having his hip removed and bones fused together to help ensure his survival. It was during his convalescence that he began experimenting more with art and discovered his true calling as a fine artist.

Artist first – Though some were tempted to peg Morrison as a Native American artist and to expect certain qualities of his art given that label, he was undoubtedly an artist first. He studied in the Twin Cities, then New York, then Paris, completely fascinated with the process and any opportunity to attempt different methods and styles. Abstract, modern, expressionist—he was a master of all of these genres in and of themselves, and in combination, and more. That’s not to say that Morrison’s ethnicity didn’t play into a lot of his subject matter. It’s there, but in unique, even surprising, ways.

Unsentimental – No matter how much time and energy Morrison invested in a project, he fought sentimentality, believing that selling his work would offer more opportunities to do even more work. However, there is one piece with which the family has never parted: a painting that has hung over their oldest son’s bed since he was a young boy.

Found objects – I absolutely love Morrison’s wood collages. The documentary shows footage of him strolling the shores of Lake Superior with armloads of driftwood. By cutting and sanding and arranging these found objects, he would make the rather earthy and woodsy become rather metropolitan and contemporary—like magic.

I can’t wait to visit Morrison’s work again with a better understanding of its origins. I can’t wait to dig into Modern Spirit. And, as always, I can’t wait to see how my exposure to yet another accomplished artist inspires my own creativity and further learning.



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