August 2009: Chickadees, watercolor by Yoshiko Van Voorhies
Header image: Chickadees, watercolor by Yoshiko Van Voorhies

Featured Artist: Bill Morrison

Bill Morrison...

Bill Morrison

The word that comes to mind when describing Bill Morrison is “dedicated.” During his thirty-six years of teaching art he was dedicated to his students. As a blacksmith, he is committed to his craft. The dedication shows in many ways. Years ago, when we first opened Alberta House—before the gallery and before the renovation—we arrived one Saturday morning to find a lady on the porch waiting for us. She’d come from the high school where a student art show was in progress—and where the judge hadn’t shown up. She needed a judge—fast. While we had many artists on our list, we needed someone who knew what could be expected of youngsters in the different age groups, and this narrowed the field of possible judges considerably. The first one we thought of was Bill Morrison. Bill lives about five miles out of town and had just come home after viewing the show, but agreed immediately to go back and judge it—which he did—probably losing his entire day off in the process. He also, when we had the elementary school art shows in Alberta House, took the trouble to call the parents and tell them the reception times. (The turnout that resulted was amazing.) And Bill was always ready to volunteer his time to teach a children’s art workshop for SAAC in the summer.

He gives the same total attention to his craft—researching it, practicing it and teaching it. He is member of the Michigan Artists Blacksmith’s Association and the owner and operator of Spruce Forge, producing custom ironwork items. He is the co-author of Hand-Forged Locks: A Manual of Locksmthing (1999).

Bill received his Bachelor of Art Education Degree from Eastern Michigan University in 1970. After two years of army service he came to the Sault as an art teacher in the area schools. He taught in that system until 1999, ending at the high school level, teaching pottery, drawing and metal sculpture/blacksmithing. During his tenure he received the Outstanding Teacher of Native American Students Award.

From 1999 until this past June he taught at JKL Bahweting School, emphasizing Native American crafts, receiving the Michigan Education Association’s Art Instructor of the Year Award in 2003. He’s been officially retired since June and is now doing commission work. As we write this, he is at Michigan Tech teaching a week-long blacksmithing course as part of Tech’s Summer Youth Program. He just completed the metal lettering for the Fort Brady sign and a fireplace crane for the River of History Museum. And he has agreed to judge the August 4, Sault Summer Arts Festival for SAAC. Some retirement!

Bill apprenticed with Russell Johnson in Strongs, specializing in the making of hand-forged tools; with Ed Grove in Maine, specializing in Early American ironwork, hinges, chandeliers and kitchen utensils; and with Russ Swider in New Mexico, building iron gates, railings and architectural grilles. He conducted a hands-on workshop at Suomi College, making hand-forged knives, and participated in the Henry Cory Memorial Exhibition, International Forge-in, in England. He conducted a week-long workshop at Jeffers High School in Painsdale, Michigan as well as a three-day workshop at the Ontonagon Area Schools, making copper jewelry and wall hangings.

An excellent example of Bill’s work is the Ojibwa cemetery gate on Brady Hill at the Locks site (below). The work is beautiful, and the thought that went into the project is typical of his approach. The following is a quote from Bill’s article on the gate in the Upsetter (the Newsletter of the Michigan Artist Blacksmith’s Association) issue of Nov/Dec 2007.

Ironwork Gate at the Entrance to the Ojibwe Cemetery in Brady Park
by Bill Morrison
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Ironwork Gate by Bill Morrison at the Entrance to the Ojibwe Cemetery in Brady Park

Symbolism of the Archway

The floral designs in the upper part of the archway are taken from traditional Ojibwa beadwork designs. These designs are used to honor the Ojibwa women for their creativity and beautiful handmade crafts. The upside-down crane at the top of the arch was a symbol found wood-burned on a very old cedar grave marker. This symbolizes the death of someone in the Crane Clan. The circle with the “X” through it, that the upside down crane is mounted to, symbolizes the four sacred directions. There is a twisted spiral at the top of the archway symbolizing the spirit's ascent to the creator.

Symbolism Found in the Gates

The spears on the outside edge of the gate represent two guardian spirits protecting the graveyard. The arrows in the gate are pointed upward towards the Creator. They honor the Ojibwa men and show they are great hunters and warriors. In the center panels of the gate are forged branches and berries of the mountain ash tree. This represents the sacred medicine tree and honors the medicine women and men of the tribe.

You can see more of Bill’s work in front of the Chippewa County Courthouse (Crane of the Sault—a collaborative work with Ralph Wolfe), and at the back of the parking lot at Alberta House (the arch leading into the garden). He also created a large mobile for the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Port Huron and turns out many smaller items for the home, from clothes hooks and curtain fixtures to chandeliers. His last exhibit in Alberta House was in July of last year.

Bill Morrison Ironwork
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Alberta House Garden Gate, ironwork by Bill Morrison

Alberta House Garden Gate

Ironwork Table by Bill Morrison from July 2008 Exhibit

Table from July 2008 Exhibit

Ironwork Crows by Bill Morrison from July 2008 Exhibit

Crows from July 2008 Exhibit

Last updated: August 1, 2009

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