WOLF MORRISSEAU: A Snake in the Grass
An opinion article by Ritchie Sinclair, Feb 1 2020
Sinclair on CTV
Ritchie Sinclair in Otavnik v Sinclair
Norval was the eldest of six brothers and a famous shaman artist. Wolf, his half-brother, was 22 years younger and a house painter. Wolf would watch his older brother paint masterpieces and would envy him for the fame he enjoyed. This made it easy for Wolf to lie, steal and leech off his brother, who felt sorry for him and was forgiving of his indiscretions. Wolf also liked to undermine his brother’s character to others, and he learned how to steal and leech off others simply by using his famous brother’s name to trick them.
In time such acts led Wolf to another of like-mind who conspired with him to steal his brother’s identity, to use for their own purposes. His partner-in-crime, one Gary Bruce Lamont, was a drug dealer who wanted to launder money. Wolf was in his mid 40s and had nothing to show for his life, beyond his older brother’s success. With Norval now in his late 60s, battling Parkinson’s disease and living thousands of miles away, they decided to make fakes to sell as genuine Morrisseaus. Wolf would paint them while Gary would facilitate sales of the completed works.
In 1999 the Gary Lamont-Wolf Morrisseau forgery factory began production in earnest, along with the practice of signing, titling, and dating the backs of their paintings in black paint. By dating them in the 1970s their fake paintings would be recognized by the Canadian Government as First Nations cultural heritage items. When donated to charities this meant high tax credits to the donors. They could literally give their paintings away to clients to shelter them from paying taxes and get under-the-table kickbacks in return. Though their scheme meant they didn’t have to sell them, they nevertheless did that too.
Gary set up a Canada-wide distribution network which included one particularly successful country auction near Toronto that sold off upwards of 2000 fakes to speculators. Such demand required more paintings than Wolf could produce so he took on his nephew, Benji Morrisseau, as an apprentice. After Gary and Wolf had a falling out and parted ways Benji became the factory’s primary painter. Gary also brought in others to take up the slack, including artist, Tim Tait, who swore in an affidavit that he painted dozens of Morrisseau fakes for Gary.
Word about Gary Lamont’s forgery factory got out to Morrisseau’s sons, David, Christian and Eugene, who joined with Wolf to start their own forgery ring to compete with Lamont’s operation. By 2008, just months after Norval passed away, both enterprises were in full swing. Thousands of paintings attributed to Morrisseau were up for sale through auction venues, galleries, ebay, and directly from originating sources like Lamont, who had hundreds of paintings up for sale on his website.
More than a decade later Norval Morrisseau’s children continue to show and sell what they purport to be their father’s work. Wolf Morrisseau is nowhere to be seen. Gary Lamont is in prison and Benji Morrisseau pushes on alone, prolifically painting Morrisseau fakes he sells through Kijiji and Ebay.
Ritchie Stardreamer Sinclair
The website at http://Morrisseau.com offers an extensive visual gallery of alleged fakes and side-by-side comparisons with the real thing. The http://norvalmorrisseaulegal.com site offers Morrisseau’s sworn declarations and legal materials from all of the actions involved, along with a library of related media.
Excerpts from the Sworn Testimony of Wilfred (WOLF) MORRISEAU in Hatfield v Artworld, 2012
Wolf Morrisseau on allegedly being born ‘Grand Medicine Chief’ of the Aboriginal People.
(Examination-in-chief) MR. SHILLER: Q. Okay, and I understand you’re involved in your local government. Can you explain a bit about that to the Court so His Honour can have an idea of your background?
WOLF MORRISSEAU: A. Well, I guess I couldn’t – it’s not a, an elected position; it’s, I was, I had to be born into the position as Grand Medicine Chief of the Aboriginal People of Lake Nipigon and surrounding area. My job is basically to help the Aboriginal people lead a good life, keep the peace and be good Canadian citizens.
MR. SHILLER: Q. Is that what we would call your current position in the tribe or do you have a particular title?
WOLF MORRISSEAU: A. Just Grand Medicine Chief is what everybody calls me.
Wolf Morrisseau on what he does for a living.
Q. And what do you do for a living?
A. I am an artist and jack-of-all-trades. I have been in the work field on many different levels.
Wolf Morrisseau on Norval throwing him out of his house.
Q. And can you tell us where Norval was living in the ’70s?
A. My brother lived in a lot of different places. The most he usually would stay is about six months at one particular place. When I met him, I, when I was in Maniwaki, Quebec, I received a very powerful vision about him and I borrowed my then wife’s car and drove all the way to Toronto from Maniwaki, Quebec, and told him the vision. He was so scared that he threw me out of the house, and then I later went back and we had a very, very heart-to-heart conversation.
Wolf on washing the floors of forty rooms for Norval.
Q. Can you tell us in those three or four years what sort of places you were living?
A. Well, I guess the, the best place that he had was this, close to Markham, he had a 40-room Spanish villa, and I know because I washed every one of the floors in that room (sic). We, he lived in Toronto here also; he had an apartment. I didn’t live with him here but I, I stayed at the other place. He lived in Winnipeg, Thunder Bay.
Norval Morrisseau’s painting process according to Wolf.
Q. Are you able to say how many paintings you personally witnessed him paint?
A. There was so many; I could not honestly say exactly how many.
Q. Okay, but in just giving the Court a general idea would it be hundreds?
A. I would say, yeah, close to the thousands because you have to understand the way he painted; he didn’t sit down and just do one painting and then go on from there. He did 40, 50, 60 paintings at a time; he would line them all up and sometimes, if he had a really, really good idea, he’d wake up and he would take a, a canvas and black paint and do the outline first, and then he would fill in the colours. But if he was doing a painting that didn’t move him so much he would draw, draw it out first, then put in all the colours and then do with the black outline, and then this is why when you flip the paint over the last brush that he used was usually the black outline, and this is why he signed his name in English on the back of his paintings.
Wolf Morrisseau on stealing Norval’s paintings.
Q. Tell us a little bit about what he did with these paintings. Did he sell them; what did he do with them?
A. He sold as many as he could and he parted with a lot. He traded a lot of his artworks for antiques; he was a, an antique avid collector, I guess. He gave away a lot of paintings also to people that could not afford his works, and there was a lot that was stolen from him.
Q. Stolen from him? And did you see paintings stolen from him; were you there when paintings were stolen from…
A. Yeah. Paintings disappeared overnight sometimes.
Q. Okay. Can you tell us about who he sold his paintings to?
A. Well, I can honestly say, when I lived with him in a place called Buckhorn near Peterborough there he did an extensive amount of artwork that would be considered erotic art. People that he sold them to I did not know but they would come up in very expensive automobiles and these paintings would disappear.
Wolf Morrisseau on Norval allegedly causing problems.
Q. Fascinating. Did your brother keep track of his paintings in a book or any log or diary or anything?
A. No he did not.
Q. And do you know why he didn’t?
A. Well, I asked him that very same question and he says (sic) that, “There’ll be enough people out in the world that will document my work.” And he was right.
Q. Did he realize how much trouble he was causing us here today?
A. Yes. Actually he did, and we talked about that quite extensively and I told him that’s it’s not going to be – no easy matter in order to sort out everything that has to be done and said.
Q. And what did he say to that?
A. He says (sic), “When I’m gone, dead and gone, it’s no longer my problem.”
Why Wolf came up with the bright idea of signing the back of Norval’s paintings.
Q. Okay. And then, once the painting was complete what would he do with it?
A. He would put it on the side of the house, or hung it up or put it on the side so it wouldn’t be stepped on.
Q. Okay, and did you see him sign paintings?
A. Yes, I saw him sign paintings. In fact I was the one who helped him to sign his English name on the back of his artwork, and my reasoning behind that was the fact that, I told him, I said, “If you sell your paintings in Canada and you have the, the syllabics on there, people that are familiar in Canada with your work will automatically recognize that signature, but if that painting goes overseas, to Japan, to, to any other country, they’re not going to have a clue what that is. But if you sign your English name on the back you can go out to Timbuktu and you’ll find someone who speaks English.” And I said, “Therefore you will be given – you’ll be known more.”
Wolf on allegedly witnessing Norval sign 1000 plus paintings on the verso.
Q. Okay. Now, when you said you saw your brother signed the back of the paintings can you tell me the mediums he used to sign on the back?
A. He used whatever was at hand because he ran out of paint and he’d grab a pencil or he’d grab a crayon or, you know, he’d a piece of soot; I saw him do it with a, with a charcoal one day.
Q. Okay. Can you say how many paintings you saw him sign on the back, or at least paintings you saw of his that were signed on the back?
A. The paintings that I saw him do on the back were the ones that I saw him do when I was with him.
Q. Can you put a number on it; at least give some general idea of how many we’re talking about?
A. A thousand. I’ll say a thousand right off…
Q. That he…
A. …the top.
Q. …signed the back…
Q. And were any of them signed in black acrylic paint?
A. Yeah; the majority of them were.
Wolf Morrisseau on why Norval’s alleged verso signature need not be legible.
Q. Can you explain to the Court the actual mechanics of how your brother signed his signature if you witnessed it?
A. Yeah; he just took a, a brush and black paint and he just began to sign ‘Copper Thunderbird’.
Q. Well, you’re talking about him on the front?
Q. And on the back?
A. Yeah; he just, just haphazardly a lot of times, he just zipped through it.
Q. Would he sign his name in different English ways?
A. Not that I understand.
A. He might have signed a cheque, more legible to a cheque that he was cashing and not as legible with his artwork because, well, when you go to the bank if it’s not legible they will not cash your cheque.
Wolf Morrisseau on doing Norval’s menial tasks for him.
Q. And in terms of his making art what was your role in that?
A. I was like a caretaker to him; looking after my older brother; making sure that he wouldn’t get too drunk or too carried away with whatever he was doing; trying to keep him on track. I would clean the house for him, do the laundry and all, all kinds of menial tasks.
Wolf Morrisseau on why inferior Morrisseau paintings allegedly exist.
Q. And did he paint while he was drinking?
A. He tried to but he couldn’t. This is where some of the works that came out were so – they weren’t perfect; they were, you could tell the lines were smeared or the colours weren’t on perfect, and that was due to him starting to drink, but then, as he got more inebriated, of course the paintings weren’t, it wouldn’t really come out.
Wolf Morrisseau on being a teen and allegedly getting his older brother incarcerated.
Q. I’ve heard stories about your brother being in jail. Can you speak of personal experience knowing about your brother being in jail?
A. Well, yes; I do have one experience where I had to actually have him incarcerated by the local constabulary in…
Q. Where was that?
A. …Kenora, Ontario.
Q. Do you know roughly when that was?
A. Seventy – late ’70s, I’d have to say; maybe be seventy – early ’76 if that was the date. I’d have to get the records from, from the police in, in Kenora.
Q. Okay, and they would….
A. They would have a record of it.
Q. Can you tell us what happened?
A. We were both living across the lake from the actual jail, and he had a house that he was renting and we were staying there, and I was keeping it clean and doing what I was supposed to do, and then I had to go, I was in school at Beaver Brae High School in Kenora.
Wolf about cleaning up Norval.
Q. And what role did you play in addition to this incident you talked about in dealing with his alcoholism when you were with him?
A. First of all, I would pour all his booze away and that would cause a great argument with him when he sobered up. I would make sure that he was clean; change his clothes, like when if he soiled himself I would have to look after him that way and make sure he was clean. I used to shave him and do his hair, and keep him presentable for the public.
Q. How much older than you was he?
A. Well, I just turned 58; he was about 75 so almost 20 years maybe.
Q. He’d be 80 today, wouldn’t he?
A. About, yeah.
Wolf Morrisseau on allegedly witnessing more than 2000 of Norval’s paintings disappear.
Q. And how many paintings would you estimate you saw go out the door?
A. I would say in excess of 2000 paintings.
Q. And, of those 2000 paintings, and if you can’t you can’t, can you give an estimation of how many of them would have been signed on the back?
A. I don’t know. I don’t know exactly how many, if not all.
Q. Could it be at least hundreds?
A. I would say yes.
Wolf Morrisseau on Ritchie Sinclair’s apprenticeship with Norval
Q. Now, there’s been a previous witness in this case named Ritchie Sinclair. Do you know who Ritchie Sinclair is?
A. Yes I do.
Q. Do you see him in the courtroom today?
A. He’s sitting over there in the corner.
Q. And in the time when you lived with Norval did Ritchie live there as well?
A. He would come to visit occasionally for periods of time.
Q. And how would you describe the relationship that you witnessed between your brother and Mr. Sinclair?
A. They were both very happy.
Q. Okay. And how would you describe Mr. Sinclair in terms of painting?
A. Well, my brother did teach him how to paint; he would get him to fill in the colours and stuff like that.
Q. Now, Mr. Sinclair claims to be a protégé of your brother. What information can you provide related to that?
A. Every artist that he ever shared the artwork with was his protégé. Everyone. And I say that because it was a new art form that was being brought into the world.
Wolf Morrisseau on Norval allegedly washing his hands of his artistic legacy.
Q. Did you have communication with him prior to his death?
A. Yes, in 2004, I do believe, he was in Thunder Bay and he rented a small house. I think it was on Mary Street in Port Arthur. Don’t quote me on that one but he had a house there. His children were with him. I went to see him about maybe three times. We had a, a very in-depth conversation and he basically washed his hands of whatever is happening in the world now with his work.
Wolf on Norval allegedly telling him he didn’t know what was fake because of Parkinson’s.
Q. Well, it’s 2004 you said?
A. Yeah, about that.
Q. So, at that point, are you aware in 2004 that there’s controversy going on out there about authenticity of certain of his works of art?
A. Yes I do.
Q. When you were saying you had this in-depth conversation with him did you discuss that with him?
A. Yes I did.
Q. And what was that conversation?
A. I asked him what he’s going to do about any fakes or imageries that may have been reproduced or produced by other individuals, and he basically said that he is no longer in any condition to have a viable understanding of what he had done because he had Parkinson’s; it was taking so much from him. He would become lucid and then all of a sudden he would begin to fade away and he would start shaking uncontrollably. His lucidity lasted for about 20 minutes, 30 minutes at the most.
Wolf Morrisseau on Norval allegedly telling him he didn’t care about forgeries.
Q. Now, prior to that, in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s did your brother ever voice concerns to you about fakes or imitations in the marketplace?
A. Well, he actually didn’t really care because, in his eyes, he thought that the more imagery that was out there the more people got, people would come to know Aboriginal artwork or the called Woodland Style.
Wolf Morrisseau on being a convicted criminal
Q. The Court found that the complainant had ended a relationship with you in 2006 because of abusive behaviour. That was the finding of the Court; do you remember that?
A. Yes, and that was still wrong.
Q. And the Court found that you spoke in abusive language; that you threatened to kill a man that she had has some relationship with; and that you presented the complainant with a shotgun bullet with this man’s name written on it; is that correct?
A. That’s false.
Q. No but is…
Q. …what the Judgment says?
A. That’s what the Judge say, yes…
A. …but, to me, I, I say they still….
Q. And you had your opportunity at that trial….
A. I had a very bad lawyer; really bad. He didn’t know what was up or down.
Q. Did you testify at that trial?
A. Yes I did.
Q. So you had an opportunity to speak to these allegations…
Q. These are the Judge’s findings about the story that you had told versus the story that the complainant and another witness had told; is that right?
Q. Okay. So the Court says, “He denied the name on the bullet story. She never told me about Todd, he said. He denied the ‘ma familia story’ and has mentioned to explain why he was stalking in the backyard episode.” It says that; right?
Q. And then it says, “The defendant was evasive; he was disingenuous; I do not believe him.” That’s talking about you sir.
A. Yes. That was the Crown.
Q. This is the Judge saying this.
A. Oh, the Judge.
Q. Is that right?
A. I believe so.
Wolf Morrisseau on envying his big brother
(Cross-examination) MR. SOMMER: Q. Mr. Morriseau, you said you’re a painter?
WOLF MORRISSEAU: A. Yes I am; I’m an artist.
MR. SOMMER: Q. Do you paint in the Woodland Style?
WOLF MORRISSEAU: A. Yes I have. I have done that, yes.
Q. And your paintings are, I believe, quite similar to your brother’s in general style, aren’t they?
A. Yes. The Woodland Style is a general style.
Q. But you haven’t achieved anywhere near the fame of your brother?
A. Of course not. If I only get half-way there I will have made something.
Q. If you wanted to, sir, you could make some pretty good forgeries of your brother’s work, couldn’t you?
A. No I couldn’t.
Q. You couldn’t paint a painting with black lines and…
A. …his name…
A. …to it?
A. No I could not. I could not honestly do that because I am not a criminal.
Q. Well, you’re not a criminal in that respect, are you?
A. I am not a criminal in any respect.
Q. But you are a convicted criminal, sir.
A. In the eyes of people who govern this land, yes, but not in my eyes and not in the eyes of my people.
Q. Ritchie Sinclair testified that, and it was quite a stark contrast in what you’ve told us, Ritchie Sinclair testified that your relationship with Norval was very poor actually. Do you agree with that statement?
A. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
Q. He said that you stole paintings and a car from Norval.
A. No, I did not do that. I was tested by my brother many times where he would take 5- or $6,000 and put it on the, on the table, and then he would know if that was disturbed in any way. And if I wanted to I could have stolen thousands but why would I do that when I just have to ask my brother, “Can I have some money?” And that’s, that’s what I did.
Q. Your brother provided you with money?
A. Yeah. Yes he did.
Q. And other things?
A. Yeah, he gave me a place to live; food.
Q. Did he give you paintings?
A. Yes he did but I, I always gave them away.
Q. According to Ritchie Sinclair Norval called you a ‘psychic leech’.
A. He called me many things when he was upset.
Q. Was he upset with you often?
A. Not that often, no; once in a while he would become upset when he wanted to drink.
Q. So you deny that there were serious problems with your relationship with Norval?
A. I wouldn’t say the, I wouldn’t say ‘deny’ completely. We were brothers and if you have any brothers you’ll know you don’t get along with them completely either.
Q. What did it feel like taking care of your brother, as you put it? You said that you were a caretaker to him; you cleaned the laundry…
Q. …you performed, as you put it, menial tasks…
Q. …and this was, as I understand, when he was doing very well?
A. Off and on, yes.
Q. Right. So you’re acting essentially as his servant…
Q. …while he’s basking in fame; correct?
Q. Raking in money; correct?
Q. Living in nice places; correct?
Q. You must have resented that.
A. It was a burden to me but I didn’t think so much because he also showed me how to paint and he taught me many things about our people. The Aboriginal people.
Q. I’m going to suggest to you, sir, that when you were talking about seeing Norval paint the reverse side of his paintings with a dry brush that you’re lying about that, sir.
A. Well, it’s up to each and everyone’s opinion; it’s up to you. I saw it happen; I saw him do it with my own eyes. So I don’t know how much, how much more I could say that he did or didn’t.
Excerpts from the Sworn Testimony of Ritchie Sinclair in Hatfield v Artworld, 2012
Ritchie Sinclair testifies about Wolf Morrisseau stealing from him
(Examination-in-chief) MR. SOMMER: Q. All right; I want to ask you about Wilfred Morrisseau, also known as Wolf Morrisseau. Are you familiar with that individual?
RITCHIE SINCLAIR: A. Yes I am.
MR. SOMMER: Q. Can you tell us a little bit about what you know about him? Excuse me; let me rephrase that; not what you know about him; what you’ve observed in your dealings with him and in his dealings with Norval.
RITCHIE SINCLAIR: A. I first met Wolf Morrisseau in August of 1979 at Vandorf, Ontario.
Q. You were with Norval at the time?
A. Yes. My story is, what I observed and what I was told. I was driven up to Vandorf by Norval Morrisseau and Brian Marion and another person; and during that drive Norval kind of gave me the lowdown about what to expect to see, and he talked to Brian Marion, who was Morrisseau’s protégé at the time already, his Native protégé; and he told Brian to protect me and…. Well, one thing I’d like to express is that, at this time I was 22, it’s a long time ago but it was the most profoundly life-shifting time of my life and, for the most part, my memories are crystal clear; clearer than what happened a year ago probably. I didn’t know who Wolf was but Norval warned Brian, “Keep that guy off of Ritchie.” And then we got up to Vandorf and I met a lot of people, and I didn’t really know anything more about Wolf at the time except that Norval warned me to be careful and he warned Brian specifically to protect me. And Wolf was painting; he was working up there painting on a, a painting of an eagle; small one; probably a bit smaller than that one; the subject painting; and it was a realistic painting he was working on; a realistic eagle; lightning out in the sky. Anyhow after two or three weeks or so, or sometime late in September maybe, maybe mid-September, one morning we got up; actually, Norval knocked on my door and woke me up and said, “They’re gone”, and I didn’t know what he was talking about. I came downstairs and my 12-string guitar had disappeared; some of Norval’s paintings, we weren’t sure whether it was six or more, were gone; and Norval’s car was gone. Norval didn’t have a driver but he had a car, and, and there was one man; he called himself Billy Jack because he thought he was, like, from this movie from the ’80s, Karate guy and he’s part-Indian. And so Wolf and him disappeared together, along with my stuff. I remember Norval and I went downstairs in the lower studio and looked at Wolf’s painting. He told me that, “Wolf is a psychic leach” which to Norval meant that he was sucking on the psyches of people. He discredited him as an artist, and credited me, so that’s why it’s such a memory because he said, you know, “This guy is trying to be a white man; you’ve already got spirit so you’re okay”, you know; and so that was….
Q. Did you ever see the car or the paintings? Was there anything else taken?
A. No, no. Nothing else was taken. Of course it really hurt me that my 12-string that I loved dearly was gone but we accepted that what was done was done; Norval’s car was gone; that was it and we just carried on; and they never came back.
Ritchie Sinclair testifies about his apprenticeship with Morrisseau.
(Cross-examination) MR. SHILLER: Q. You’ve mentioned in your evidence that you were a protégé of Mr. Morrisseau.
RITCHIE SINCLAIR: A. Yes.
MR. SHILLER: Q. You mixed his paints; I guess you bought brushes; you bought canvasses; you cleaned up. You eventually started doing some of the artwork. What other relationship did you have with him?
RITCHIE SINCLAIR: A. We were good friends for 28 years.
Q. Anything else?
A. Nothing else.
Ritchie Sinclair testifies about a forgery allegedly painted by Wolf Morrisseau
Q. Sorry, did you say Wolf Morrisseau?
A. Wolf Morrisseau, I believe, is the painter of that piece. But what I learned about six months later after this Liss Gallery meeting, I believed that these, at the time, were old paintings that were fakes. And about six months later I learned that there were at least a half a dozen different artists, of different qualities, of varying qualities doing the work, instead of one old forger that had done a lot of pieces. So, as I said….
Q. And the painting was Great Moose; is that right?
A. Well, another indication of how you can tell if Wolf Morrisseau does the paintings, this one, for example, has a wolf head in it. Wolf Morrisseau, in his paintings, puts these in as a little – his little symbol that he likes to have in. So you’ll notice that there’s dozens of higher quality fake Morrisseaus, and they all have these wolf heads with little beards and stuff like that.
Ritchie Sinclair testifies about who the forgers are.
Q. You are the protégé of Norval Morrisseau. So tell me, Wolf Morrisseau now is all of a sudden the great forger of Norval Morrisseau’s work?
A. Not all of a sudden. I’ve known that Wolf Morrisseau was an issue since 1979.
Q. Funny, when did you testify in this case? When was the last day you testified? It was in February, wasn’t it?
A. February 23rd.
Q. You didn’t mention it then?
A. Yeah, I did.
Q. You mentioned that Wolf Morrisseau was faking his art?
A. I don’t know if I mentioned it.
Q. I don’t…
A. He was faking….
Q. …think you did.
A. Well, maybe I didn’t have the opportunity at that time, but now I have the opportunity to be clear with you about it….
Q. Who are the other five?
A. Well, David Morrisseau’s definitely one.
A. Christian Morrisseau’s definitely one. Eugene Morrisseau’s definitely one. His nephew, Benji Morrisseau is another. There’s [sic] a few others.
Q. So the whole…
A. Gary Lamont is definitely…
Q. …Morrisseau family?
A. …a part of it.
THE COURT: Sorry, I didn’t hear the response. Just repeat, after Benji Morrisseau, who did you say?
A. Gary Lamont, who’s kind of like the – you could call him the host of the show. These – all these boys were paid in drugs, primarily, for doing the work. So they would receive a few hundred dollars in drugs, and, and Mr. Lamont would receive the work, and eventually the work would be passed on to auction houses in southern Ontario.
MR. SHILLER: Q. You’ve uncovered the whole thing?
A. It’s taken four and a half years, and working with the RCMP for two of them.
Q. We have all the answers now from you today, finally. After five days of trial we know…
A. Well, Mr. Shiller…
Q. …what the conspiracy is.