Former U art professor, renowned artist dies at 80

David Anderson

George Morrison kept a photograph of himself with a statue of Pablo Picasso that he had taken at the wax museum in Paris.
The trick was meant to grab the interest of guests, so the painter and sculptor could pretend he had met the man who changed his focus from realism to abstract impressionism.
Morrison, a former University art professor, died Monday at the North Shore Hospital, next to Grand Portage Ojibwe Indian Reservation, where he was born.
To establish himself as a world-renowned artist, Morrison had to make his way from the small northern Minnesota reservation to major museums in the United States.
Ron Libertus, a University lecturer for the Department of American Indian Studies who knew Morrison, remembers the artist was fascinated by how the sky, earth and water get together to form a horizon. His best-known work is a series of abstract paintings of Lake Superior horizons.
“He sees (the Lake Superior) landscape as a meeting of the known and the unknown,” said Stewart Turnquist, a Minneapolis Institute of Arts program coordinator.
The first person in his family to complete high school, Morrison studied at the Minneapolis School of Art, now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
After graduating, he left for New York City, then for Paris to study and paint before returning to Minnesota to teach at the University in the 1960s and 1970s. He helped establish the American Indian studies department in 1969, Libertus said.
Turnquist said Morrison was a humble man with a subtle sense of humor.
“Most people didn’t know just how kind he was because he didn’t talk about it,” Libertus said.
The Smithsonian American Indian Museum in Washington, D.C., will feature Morrison’s work in a lead exhibit expected for 2003.
Morrison’s health had been failing in recent months. He was 80 years old.

David Anderson covers international perspectives and professional schools and welcomes comments at [email protected]