George Morrison to be honored with new stamp series

George Morrison at work on a wood collage in his Grand Portage studio. Morrison will be featured on a new stamp to be released next year by the U.S. Postal Service. Courtesy of the Morrison estate

By Dan Kraker/MPR News

Celebrated Minnesota artist George Morrison – who was born in a Native American fishing village along the North Shore of Lake Superior in 1919, but whose art career took him around the world – will be featured on a new stamp series to be released next year by the U.S. Postal Service.

Morrison is regarded as one of the greatest American abstract expressionist painters, a contemporary and friend of artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning during the modern art movement that flourished in New York after World War II.

Five of Morrison’s colorful, abstract landscape paintings will be featured as part of the Postal Service’s Forever Stamp release in the spring of 2022. In making the announcement, the Postal Service called him one of the nation’s “greatest modernist artists and a founding figure of Native American modernism,” saying Morrison “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’s body of work spans six decades. He taught at several colleges and art schools in the eastern U.S., before coming home to teach at the University of Minnesota. After he retired, he returned to the Grand Portage reservation and built Red Rock, a home and studio where he continued to work until he died in 2000.

“It is just so exciting to have this work find a really broad audience,” said Kristin Makholm, an art historian and curator who co-wrote a book about George Morrison.

“To enjoy this work in this context is really fabulous, not only for the people who are lucky enough to buy and receive these stamps, but also for George Morrison and his work.”
The five paintings selected to appear on the stamps all feature a distinctive feature of Morrison’s, a horizon line that appeared about a quarter of the way down from the top of the work.

“I think I began using the horizon probably earlier in my career because of my living near Lake Superior, that horizon line was always there, and it affected me subconsciously,” Morrison explained in an interview with MPR News in 1990.

Morrison’s signature horizon line “was a real symbolic motif that resonated with how we look at life,” said Makholm. “You know that it’s out there, but [you’re always] striving to something that you can never really reach.”

Makholm says that Morrison was able to take all the tenets of modernist abstraction that he learned in New York, and in Paris where he studied under a Fulbright scholarship, and combine them with the landscape he absorbed living on the Grand Portage reservation in far northeastern Minnesota.

“I’m grateful that they’re honoring a Native American artist,” said Morrison’s son Briand Morrison, a jazz guitarist who lives in the home his father built on the reservation.
George Morrison grew up speaking only Ojibwe until he was in the first grade, Briand said, before he was taken away to boarding school.

“I think the images that were chosen are a good representation of his work, his paintings,” said Briand Morrison. “If you look at his legacy, and the art that he did do, the Abstract Impressionist style, combined with his take on it, he is world-class.”

Other notable Americans to be recognized with stamps next year include Katharine Graham, the first female head of a Fortune 500 company, pioneering marine biologist Eugenie Clark, and folk music icon Pete Seeger.

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