DULUTH — The work of one of Minnesota's most distinguished artists, George Morrison, will be featured on new stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service next year.
Morrison, a member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, is widely considered the founder of Native Modernism and one of the greatest American abstract expressionist painters. His career took him to New York and Paris and put him at the center of the modern art movement in New York following World War II, where he counted Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol among his friends and contemporaries.
Morrison, who died in 2000, grew up in Chippewa City, a small village on the North Shore near Grand Marais. Best known for his abstract landscapes and elaborate driftwood collages, he was the first Native American to have his art — the sculpture Red Totem — displayed in the White House. His work has been shown in museums around the country, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
Five of his paintings, which include horizons, will appear on stamps. The Postal Service called Morrison "one of the nation's greatest modernist artists" who "challenged prevailing ideas of what Native American art should be, arguing that an artist's identity can exist independently from the nature of the art he creates."
Morrison told the Star Tribune in 1999 that his Horizon series, a series of paintings depicting Lake Superior, was "an obsession" with him for several years.
"I see the lake all the time," he said. "It reminds me of the Atlantic Ocean and seeing beyond the edge of the world, speaking metaphorically, of course."
Morrison, who was sent to a Wisconsin Native American boarding school when he was a child, studied art in Minneapolis before he went to Paris under a Fulbright scholarship in the 1950s. He taught at several universities, including the University of Minnesota and Rhode Island School of Design, before he returned to Grand Portage where he built a home and studio overlooking Lake Superior, working there until his death. His son, jazz guitarist Briand Morrison, lives there now.
"He was fascinated with the horizon, the enigma of the line and a hidden element of what's beyond that," his son said Wednesday.
"It's good for my father's legacy to be recognized, and it's good for the people of Grand Portage and Native Americans in general," he said. "He would just be delighted by this."