TABLE OF CONTENTS
Paul and Mary Okanski fonds:
Paul Okanski was born in 1930 in Fort William, Ontario (now Thunder Bay) and as a young man was posted to Red Lake with the Bank of Nova Scotia. Not long after arriving he met Mary Miller, whose parents Thomas and Genevieve had moved to Red Lake in 1951 to teach at the local high school. Paul and Mary were married in 1954 and not long after Paul was hired as an assayer at the nearby Cochenour-Willans Gold Mine, where he eventually developed a friendship with Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007), an Ojibway artist who moved to Cochenour in 1959 with his wife Harriet Kakegamic (1935-1995) and their children. Beginning in 1960 Morrisseau was employed as a flotation operator in the mill attached to the Willans mine. He quit his job at the mine in 1962 to concentrate on painting but continued to spend most of his time in the Red Lake area until the early 1970s.
When the Cochenour mine closed in 1967, Paul, Mary and their three children returned to Red Lake, where they purchased a local variety store and coffee counter on Howey Street called the What-Not Shop. A few years later they began making the shop's basement available to Morrisseau, both as a studio space and as a place of refuge. The Okanskis also provided Morrisseau with paints and other supplies, offered his paintings for sale at the store, and shipped paintings and other works to art dealers such as Toronto-based Jack Pollock (1930-1992), who was instrumental in exposing Morrisseau's art to a wider audience in the early 1960s. Pollock first met Morrisseau in 1962, when he was teaching a painting workshop in Beardmore. He organized the first major exhibition of Morrisseau paintings and drawings at his Toronto gallery in September of that year.
The Okanskis lost touch with Morrisseau after he left Red Lake in 1972. Believing in Morrisseau's talent, Paul and Mary kept all letters, diaries, and drawings through several moves, even when storing these items was difficult. Paul passed away at his home in Simcoe, Ontario in 2003.
The fonds consist of drawings, correspondence, a 26-page manuscript written by Morrisseau entitled "Biography Life's Thoughts of Copper Thunder Bird," and other textual material given to Paul Okanski by Norval Morrisseau. The eighteen drawings and one print in the fonds are not dated but are believed to have been produced during the early 1970s. The correspondence in the fonds mainly consists of letters and shorter memos between Morrisseau and Paul Okanski dating from 1972 to 1973. The content of these letters and memos often relate to monetary loans for the purchase of art supplies and other provisions. A few of the letters date from early 1973, when Morrisseau was incarcerated in the Kenora jail for "drunk and disorderly behaviour." Other correspondence includes two letters from the Toronto art dealer Jack Pollock to Morrisseau, two letters from Pollock to Paul Okanski, and letters to Morrisseau from Robert F. Lavack (Cambrian College of Applied Arts and Technology, North Bay) and John Anson Warner (University of Saskatchewan Regina Campus). Other textual material includes receipts for paintings supplies and other items, and newspaper clippings. The single photograph in the fonds shows Morrisseau's wife, Harriet Kakegamic, in 1961.
Source of title: Title based on contents of fonds.
Immediate source of aquisition: The records were kept by Paul Okanski through several moves since the early 1970s. They were donated to the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives by Mary Okanski in 2011.
Terms governing use and reproduction: Written requests for reproduction or publishing of material from the Paul and Mary Okanski fonds must be made to the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.
Finding aids: Series level description, box list, and an item level description for the drawings are available.
Related records: The Nancy Robinson Villarroel fonds consists of six photographs of Norval Morrisseau taken outside a cabin in Beardmore, Ontario in 1962. Four of the photographs show Morrisseau with examples of his work; the two remaining photographs depict Morrisseau with his wife, Harriet Kakegamic (1935-1995). The Dominion Gallery fonds includes several photographs showing Morrisseau at the Dominion Gallery with Max Stern and Michel Moreault in 1975. Several works by Morrisseau were featured in the exhibition Colours of Pride: Paintings by Seven Professional Native Artists held at the Dominion Gallery from March 11 to April 5, 1975 and the photographs of Morrisseau, Moreault, and Stern are believed to have been taken at that time.
Note: Two pages from the Morrisseau manuscript "Biography Life's Thoughts of Copper Thunder Bird" and a letter from Morrisseau to Paul Okanski dated January 17, 1973 are reproduced in Norval Morrisseau and the Woodland Artists: the Red Lake Years, 1959-1980, a book published by the Red Lake Regional Heritage Centre in 2008 to celebrate the Red Lake Woodland Arts Festival: A Tribute to Norval Morrisseau and the Woodland Artists (June 2008).
Collection processed and finding aid prepared by Philip Dombowsky in 2011.
[Title of item], Paul and Mary Okanski fonds, National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.
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