Curricular Expectations

Visual Arts, Grade 9, Open (AVI10)
Dramatic Arts, Grade 9, Open (ADA10)

  Complete Curricular Expectations


This ArtiFACT assignment integrates visual and dramatic arts.

Read the ArtiFACTS about Norval Morrisseau. When you have finished reading, work independently and answer the study questions below.


  1. According to Morrisseau, what is the traditional role of the shaman?
  2. According to this artist, what is an icon?
  3. Why was Morrisseau raised by his grandparents?
  4. What special role did his grandfather perform in the community?
  5. What subject did Morrisseau choose to draw when he was young?
  6. Write a paragraph describing Shaman and Disciples. For help writing a description, click here.


By reading the artist's statement, biography, and interpretation in the ArtiFACT, you can learn a lot about Norval Morrisseau. To learn more, click here. To learn more about Canada's other First Nations artists perform an on-line key word search for the following names:

  • Jackson Beardy
  • Blake Debassige
  • Goyce Kakegamic
  • Daphne Odjig
  • Martin Panamick
  • Carl Ray
  • Saul Williams


Norval Morrisseau (Ojibwe) was born in 1931 at the Sand Point Reserve on Lake Nipigon, near Thunder Bay, Ontario and, according to community tradition, was raised mostly by his grandparents. His grandfather, a sixth generation shaman, was a particularly strong role model and introduced the young Norval to traditional Ojibwe knowledge, transmitted through stories, petroglyphs (rock carvings) and Midiwewin scrolls. Early in his teens, Morrisseau rejected formal schooling, and instead dedicated himself to acquiring traditional Ojibwe knowledge and values and to becoming a shaman.

Morrisseau's work depicted sacred Ojibwe legends in a visual form for the first time, which caused controversy among his people. He strongly believed however that it was his responsibility to share traditional Ojibwe knowledge with his own people and with non-First Nations people, so he continued to paint.

In 1962, Morrisseau showed his work to Toronto art dealer Jack Pollock who was visiting Beardmore where Morrisseau lived. Later that year, Pollock organized a one-man show of Morrisseau's work that attracted critical praise and sold out, pushing him into the artistic spotlight. Although Morrisseau's images were related to those on Midewewin scrolls and petroglyphs and his sense of colour can be linked to traditional beadwork, he had developed the new and innovative style of art that formed the foundation of the Woodland School. This style both inspired a new generation of First Nations artists and engaged a non-First Nations audience.


Morrisseau has been able to capture the special narratives of the Anishnabe people in visual form. His gift to us is his ability to share these narratives that teach about his particular cultural heritage. Morrisseau's gift is unique, but the principle of sharing through art is actually quite common. By learning about art and artists, we can usually learn a lot about cultural history, and the context in which people live and work.

You have special stories of your own. In the ArtiFACT for Jane Ash Poitras, the assignment is to record your history in a mixed-media work of art. For Norval Morrisseau, you will have the opportunity to work with other students in your class to share stories about your cultural heritage, and then you will present them in a dramatic form called a tableau.

Tableau is a drama technique that presents a slice of life to the audience, an image, like a photograph, that actors create by posing and then holding their pose to communicate a living representation of an event, an idea or a feeling.

In terms of its structure, Shaman and Disciples can be viewed as a two-dimensional tableau. Using paint and canvas, Morrisseau has captured a moment in the lesson between the Shaman and his Chelas.

Your assignment is to create a three-dimensional tableau using yourself as the medium. To prepare your tableau, follow these instructions:


  1. Begin the assignment with a journal and pen. Reflect on your personal cultural heritage. For help getting started, try answering these questions:
    • What stories did you hear growing up?
    • Who are your heroes?
    • What special events do you recall?
    • What is your relationship with influential members of your family or community?
    • Do you identify strongly with a particular cultural group?
  2. Once you have generated ideas, weave your thoughts into a personal narrative. Create a first-person story of your reflections that tell people about yourself. You will share this narrative with classmates.
  3. Select a group of 3-5 classmates. Take turns telling your narratives.
  4. As a group, select a section from each story that you can build into a tableau.
  5. Develop your tableaus with particular attention to composition. For example, balance your characters on the stage, remember to include different levels of space, emphasize positive and negative space. Try also to convey elements of drama in your scene: time, place, roles/characters, and tension.
  6. Rehearse and then present your tableaus in a series. Include at least one tableau from each story in your group. You may choose to offer descriptions, analysis, or interpretations of your work. The class will have the opportunity to evaluate your presentation.

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