Community remembers George Morrison at Forever Stamp dedication
The large open atrium of the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino was buzzing with activity on Friday, April 22, as about 200 people gathered to celebrate the dedication of a special issuance of stamps in honor of Grand Portage artist George Morrison.
Although the official US Postal Service First Day of Issue Dedication Ceremony did not begin until 1 p.m. by noon the hotel lobby area was full of friends and family of George Morrison, fans of his work, as well as philatelists from far and wide, wanting to purchase the special stamps featuring Morrison’s abstract horizons.
When it was time to begin the official dedication, Beth Drost, executive director of the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority and a Grand Portage Band Member, emcee for the day, gave a welcome and invited the Grand Portage Stonebridge Singers to offer a drum song.
On the drum on this special day was Bob Vogel, Tanner Hendrickson, Brent Sorenson, John Vogel, Sequoia Morrin, Gene Boshey, and Brandon Deschampe Morrison.
After the drum song, David “Niib” Aubid of Sandy Lake, Rice Lake Band of Ojibwe performed a pipe ceremony.
The Grand Portage American Legion Honor Guard brought in the US and Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa flags, followed by the National Anthem sung by Lyz Jaakola and Roxann Berglund, accompanied by Briand Morrison.
Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chair Bobby Deschampe gave a welcome from the Grand Portage Tribal Council, thanking everyone for coming out to honor George Morrison. He said it meant a lot to see the hotel lobby overflowing with guests.
Heather Boyd, acting superintendent at Grand Portage National Monument spoke next, reflecting on the history of the day and the significance of George Morrison’s work. She invited attendees to also visit the Grand Portage Heritage Center to see the newly opened George Morrison exhibit.
Grand Portage Tribal Committeeman John Morrin spoke next, but not in his capacity as tribal leader, but as the nephew of the famed artist, his “uncle George.” He spoke of visits from his uncle and the family’s pride in his success as an artist.
Briand Morrison, the talented, well-known jazz musician, spoke next, noting how meaningful it was to have the stamp release dedication ceremony here in Grand Portage, so near to the home his father loved. He said it was wonderful to see so many people on this special day.
Artist Hazel Belvo spoke next, sharing excerpts from letters that George had sent her through the decades—letters adorned with stamps of various denominations in a sort of collage. She said George spoke to her about the importance of mail to stay connected to his mother in Grand Portage and his people. She said he always read The Moccasin Telegraph when it arrived by mail. And he always voted for tribal council with a mail-in ballot. And, when their son, Briand, was born, George immediately registered him as a member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa—by mail, of course.
Belvo said there was no better way to honor George Morrison than by getting his works of art to as many people as possible in the form of stamps.
Speaking next was Chief Customer and Marketing Officer and Executive Vice-President of the US Postal Service Steven Monteith. He said the drive up Highway 61 to Grand Portage was very meaningful, to be able to see the landscape captured in the work of George Morrison. He spoke about the process of selecting an honoree to be featured on a stamp, explaining that the postal service releases only 20-30 stamp series each year out of thousands of suggested dignitaries. He said the George Morrison stamp issuance includes five miniature works of art: Lake Superior Landscape; Sun and River; Untitled; Phenomena Against the Crimson; and Spirit Path, New Day, Red Rock Variation.
Monteith said though Morrison passed away 22 years ago, he is remembered as an artist who challenged the idea of “Native art.” He will always be remembered as a leader in Minnesota art. He said it is the hope of the postal service that the stamps will inspire other artists.
It was then time to unveil the large display of the stamp selvage. As the Stonebridge Singers offered an Honor Song, Briand Morrison pulled aside the blue curtain to reveal the four rows of stamps and a photo of George Morrison in his Red Rock studio.
Several other speakers came to the stage to share their memories of George Morrison. Kristin Makholm, an art historian and author of the book Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison, spoke of finding Morrison’s work at St. Paul’s Minnesota Museum of American Art. She felt his art was not getting the recognition it deserved and curated a retrospective traveling exhibit. With Lake Superior serving as a perfect background, Makholm briefly shared her interpretation of each row of stamps.
Andrea Carlson, a young visual artist and writer of Grand Portage Anishinaabe and Scandinavian descent, remembered her father taking her to an exhibit of George Morrison’s work at the Johnson Heritage Post when she was 16. She said the images, of horizons and colors, were etched in her mind. She also remembered her dad introducing her to George Morrison, saying she was an aspiring artist. Morrison told her that is the secret of being an artist—start young, keep painting, and do it until you die.
Carlson said she would love to be considered one of the people following in Morrison’s footsteps, one of many artists that are his legacy.
Christina Woods, a member of the Bois Forte Tribal Nation and executive director of the Duluth Art Institute, was the next speaker. Woods said, “Representation matters.”
She spoke about George Morrison’s imprint on the art world, but especially on Native youth. She said, “Chi Miigwech, George Morrison for opening doors through the life force of your work.”
The dedication ceremony concluded with a traveling song by the Stonebridge Singers. But none of the attendees were in a hurry to leave. Community members gathered in the lobby to enjoy displays by local artists and to purchase the First Day Release stamps, specially canceled envelopes, and covers.
And to share memories of George Morrison, internationally acclaimed modern artist—and friend to many in the art world and the community.
WTIP’s Rhonda Silence captures the thoughts of some of the attendees at the George Morrison First Day of Issue Dedication Ceremony in this report.